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Man Who Fled Fraud Scheme Charge Down Fire Escape Is Ordered Detained on Appeal in SDNY

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon Podcast
BBC - Guardian UK - Honduras - ESPN

SDNY COURTHOUSE, Feb 19 – In an alleged fraud conspiracy stretching from Ghana through The Bronx to North Dakota, on February 17 Federal prosecutors announced announced the arrests of FAROUK APPIEDU, FRED ASANTE, CELVIN FREEMAN, LORD ANING, SADICK EDUSEI KISSI, and FAISAL ALI, a/k/a “Clarence Graveley,” for charges in connection with their roles in a fraud and money laundering conspiracy based in the Republic of Ghana involving the theft of tens of millions of dollars. Criminal complaint on Patreon here.

   FREEMAN and ALI were arrested earlier on February 17 in New Jersey and were set to be "presented in Manhattan federal court later in the day." Inner City Press live tweeted it, here and below -- Freeman was ordered released, after having fled law enforcement in the morning.

 On February 19, the US appealed to Judge Jed S. Rakoff, who reversed the release. Inner City Press live tweeted it here: (podcast here)

Judge Rakoff cuts to the chase: This seems like a clear case for remand, on risk of flight. How did Magistrate Judge Parker explain freeing him? Freeman's lawyer: The government emphasized that another defendant once cuts off his GPS and fled.

 Judge Rakoff: Certainly that should not be held against your client. But we all know there are problems with GPS, even before the pandemic. Freeman's lawyer: My client initially came here legally. Judge Rakoff: But he's not here legally now, right?

Freeman's lawyer: He's still legally married here. She works in Summit Hospital.  Judge Rakoff: Where does she live? Freeman's lawyer: In Newark. They are separated. My client tells me she is going to file divorce papers. But he came here legally.

Freeman's lawyer: Then my client's former lawyer died of COVID, at 68 years old. That's and his separation fromm his wife complicated him trying to become legal here.  Judge Rakoff: Where is the daughter? Freeman's lawyer: In Ghana.

Judge Rakoff: I would think it is obvious that the reason he didn't go back to Ghana is because there is a chance he wouldn't be re-admitted... I understand he has suffered a number of vicissitudes, but now he has a motive to flee that he didn't have previously.

Freeman's lawyer: Well, he wasn't one of the defendants taking PPP loans. Judge Rakoff: Let's here from the government. What's the evidence against this guy?

AUSA: He is a defendant from Ghana accused of committing crimes against the US, using Freeman Auto.

 AUSA: He received deposits of over $5 million. Including from romance scams, like from a 72 year old woman in Arizona who believed he was a four star general. He has a co-conspirator convicted of money laundering in the Eastern District of Kentucky. AUSA: I know your Honor does not have a strong affinity for the [Sentencing] Guidelines, but he faces 5 to 7 years. He might well self-deport... As to the fire escape, he had made it 2 flights down. But agents were waiting.

 AUSA: He had an ID for a Mr. Labbo, a driver's license and a Wells Fargo bank card. He claimed it was left in his apartment and he was keeping it for safekeeping. Judge Rakoff: In his wallet? This sounds like a flagrant lie to me. [There is a sigh]

 AUSA: This puts the issue of flight to bed.

Judge Rakoff: It's time to hear from defense. Most people just leave there wallets lying around. [Seems sarcastic]. Why did he climb down the fire escape?

 Freeman's lawyer: They were banging on his door in East Orange, NJ. It is a dangerous neighborhood. Judge Rakoff: That is interesting. But under what rule of evidence does it come in, that you might have fled in this situation?

Freeman's lawyer: He was in his socks. He couldn't have gone to the airport. Judge Rakoff: The government says he was trying to avoid arrest. .. I am going to detain the defendant. The government has established overwhelmingly there's a substantial risk of flight.

Judge Rakoff: He has strong ties to Ghana, including his daughter being there. He was attempted to evade arrest. If the US is credited, he is a master liar. He faces significant time. His regards for other human beings appears modest at most.

 Judge Rakoff: So, the defendant will be detained. Adjourned.

From February 17: Celvin Freeman is accused of getting $100,000 in Ghana fraud -- but today he says he has only $2500, gets publicly paid CJA lawyer.

Magistrate asks if Judge Rakoff has set a next date. No, AUSA says, he's waiting to learn the status of other arresteees.

AUSA: Government is seeking detention. CJA lawyer: We are making a bail application.

 Assistant US Attorney: Mr. Freeman tried to flee from the agents this morning. They knew he was inside, but he refused to answer. After 5 minutes, they breached the door - and found a window open with blinds moving. He was on fire escape.

AUSA: Mr. Freeman was in his socks and tried to climb down the fire escape. He has no legal status here. He had another person's driver license and debit card. He said it belonged to his cousin, then to his biological brother. There is a risk of flight.

 Defense lawyer: He is married to a US citizen. They are separated and she lives in Newark, New Jersey. Whether that is because of money problems, I don't know. "In terms of the brother claim, in Africa, if you live with someone you call them your brother." (!)

 Defense lawyer: The government unfairly mentions another person who cut off their GPS bracelet and fled. [Inner City Press surmises this was the case before Judge Cote that it covered]. We offer up his travel documents, no new bank accounts, home detention...

 AUSA: This morning, law enforcement was at the door announcement themselves as law enforcement - yet he fled. So he is a risk of flight. We know what goes on in his mind based on that. Judge: Pre-Trial Services recommends release. Why isn't GPS monitoring enough?

 AUSA: Electronic monitoring is not perfect, if they flee at the right hour. He attempted to flee this very morning, down a fire escape. Defense lawyer: Maybe the Assistant US Attorney wouldn't, but if my door was knocked on loud at 6:15 am l might be scared & flee

 Pre-Trial Services: We stand by our recommendation. Judge: I believe there are condition that will reasonably assure this defendant's return to court. $500,000 bond co-signed by three financially responsible persons.

Pre-Trial Services chimes in to suggest that defendant be allowed to self-install his own GPS monitoring bracelet.

How long it will be until this bail determination is put in PACER is anyone's guess.

Criminal complaint on Patreon here.

This case is US v. Freeman, 21-cr-88 (Rakoff)

ASANTE and ANING were arrested in Virginia, to be presented in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, Virginia.  APPIEDU was previously arrested in Queens, New York on October 18, 2020.  KISSI was previously arrested in Fargo, North Dakota on February 5, 2020.             

  FAROUK APPIEDU, 35, of the Bronx, New York, FRED ASANTE, 35, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, CELVIN FREEMAN, 47, of East Orange, New Jersey, and LORD ANING, 28, of Woodbridge, Virginia, were each charged in Indictment No. 21 Cr. 88 with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of conspiracy to receive stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; and one count of receipt of stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.  The case against APPIEDU, ASANTE, FREEMAN, and ANING is assigned to U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff.


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