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Washington man who collected millions in 'Nigerian inheritance' scam receives 5-year sentence

SEATTLE – A Blaine, Wash., man convicted on federal wire fraud and tax charges for his role in a "Nigerian inheritance" fraud scheme was sentenced Friday to five years in prison following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI).

Scott Alan Stuart, 51, was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court. In addition to the prison term, Stuart will be subject to three years of supervised release and he owes millions of dollars in court ordered restitution. The exact amount will be determined in the next two months.

Stuart convinced various investors across the country to send him money so he could claim a Nigerian inheritance from a bank in Canada. Stuart represented to investors that his father had made millions constructing an oil pipeline in Nigeria. Stuart claimed his inheritance from his father was in a bank in Canada, and if investors provided enough money to pay the taxes, he would be able to access $30 million and investors would get a large return on their investment. There was no inheritance or Canadian bank account. Stuart collected more than $3.8 million from investors across the country.

At sentencing U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik noted that Stuart was originally a victim of the well-known Nigerian scam, and then turned around and victimized others. Stuart used some of the money "feeding a serious drug problem and gambling significant sums away at casinos," Judge Lasnik said.

Between 2003 and 2010, Stuart convinced dozens of people across the country to provide him with what he called "loans," so he could access the alleged inheritance. He promised to pay the loans back quickly with an extraordinary rate of return. Stuart claims he sent some $200,000 to the Nigerians or their middle men in the U.S. to try to access the "inheritance." However, the bulk of the money Stuart collected from others was used for his own expenses. Some people wired as much as $45,000 to Stuart in hopes of a big payday when his "inheritance" came through. Various investors convinced their friends to participate as well, believing that if Stuart had just a bit more money, he would be able to access the large inheritance.

"The defendant was a predator, a manipulator and opportunist who exploited people for his own personal gain," prosecutors told the judge.

"My message to victim groups is be skeptical," Judge Lasnik said. "Keep your guard up. People are waiting to prey on your trusting nature and your kindness."

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Warma.