By Amanda Costikyan Jones
A federal appeals court upheld the convictions and sentences of a former Burtonsville real estate agent and his accomplice, who used private information about clients to fraudulently obtain credit cards.
Akin Akinkoye, also known as Sam Akins, took personal information from client files in the Burtonsville Re/Max office where he worked and used it to apply for dozens of credit cards in the clients’ names, according to court documents.
He and Nouyibatou Afolabi, a woman who did not work at Re/Max, charged $214,000 to the cards over a 19-month period beginning in 1995, according to Tuesday’s ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Lynne A. Battaglia, the U.S. attorney for Maryland, said she is pleased by the appeals court victory because protecting consumers from credit-card fraud is a high priority for her office.
“Identity fraud is terrifying to most people,” she said. “These are areas that we feel that we need to be aggressive about.”
Akinkoye and Afolabi were convicted of credit-card fraud in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt in September 1997 and sentenced the following February to 51 months and 24 months, respectively. Akinkoye’s sentence was harsher than it would have been otherwise because the court found he committed an “abuse of trust” in his position as a real estate agent.
The two appealed their convictions and sentences on several grounds, including a claim that they should have been tried separately and a claim that a search of Akinkoye’s Burtonsville home was conducted with a flawed warrant.
The appeals court Tuesday rejected all their arguments, including Akinkoye’s claim that he did not hold a position of trust with the victims. His attorney said they were clients of other Re/Max agents, not of Akinkoye.
The appeals court ruled that, while the banks lost the money, the Re/Max clients were also victims, since several of them testified to credit problems they suffered as a result.
“One client received constant harassment at home and work from creditors. Another victim’s search for a new home was impeded because of the credit problems,” according to the ruling.
Battaglia said she was pleased by the court’s reasoning.
“(Akinkoye) was seen to have abused a position of trust, since he was a real estate agent and used information that he had gleaned in that position to basically establish an identity fraud scheme,” she said.
Akinkoye’s lawyer, Michael Montemarano of Baltimore, said he was “aghast” at the abuse of trust ruling and will probably ask the appeals court to reconsider.
“I think the court’s wrong,” Montemarano said. “Abuse of trust … involves some form of relationship between the victim and the defendant.”
Re/Max agent Lou Nibert, who said one of his own clients was among the victims, said Akinkoye often worked late at the office.
“We called him the night shift. It was kind of a joke,” said Nibert, adding that the Burtonsville office has since changed some procedures.
“We don’t take Social Security numbers on certain credit information forms any longer, and that would pretty much solve the problem,” he said. He said that files are also kept more secure now and that the office was “very embarrassed” by the case.
Akinkoye used information from clients to apply for credit cards and then used keys that they had provided to Re/Max to intercept their mail. Nibert said the homes involved were vacant and up for sale.
Afolabi provided photo identification for the cards that were issued in women’s names and used one herself at least once, the ruling said. Her attorney, Margaret Nemetz of Bowie, said she has not yet decided whether to appeal.
Neither Montemarano nor Nemetz knew the nature of the relationship between Akinkoye and Afolabi.