Alleged law firm scammer gets charges tossed on speedy-trial grounds
A Nigerian citizen accused of acting with others to scam law firms and lawyers out of more than $30 million has won dismissal of the U.S. charges against him.
U.S. District Judge Jennifer P. Wilson of the Middle District of Pennsylvania ordered dismissal of the charges in a March 31 decision. Wilson, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, ruled that a violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial required dismissal.
The defendant, Omoefe Okoro, was indicted in 2012 on charges of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was living in Canada when he was arrested in February 2017.
After unsuccessfully challenging his extradition, Okoro arrived in the United States and made an initial appearance in the case in August 2018. He was ordered to be detained pending trial.
Wilson agreed to toss the case when Okoro filed his fourth motion to dismiss.
Wilson acknowledged that a “cumbersome and lengthy” extradition process accounted for the delays from indictment until arraignment. That delay should not be attributed either to Okoro or the government, Wilson said. She evaluated other delays, including continuances early in the COVID-19 pandemic. She attributed some to Okoro, some to the government, and many to neither side.
“In sum,” Wilson wrote, “the court finds that the overwhelming majority of the reason for delay in this case is neutral. There are 2,786 days of delay in this case that cannot reasonably and justly be attributed to either party. Okoro takes the blame for 419 days of delay, while the government is responsible for 650 days.”
Even so, the length of the delay “is extraordinary” and “presumptively prejudicial,” Wilson wrote.
During his detention, Okoro said, he developed a lump in his nose and throat that makes it difficult to swallow. He thinks that his increasing congestion is “due to the constant fog of synthetic marijuana” in prison, which causes him “to wake up at night gasping for air.” He contracted COVID-19 in prison, and his blood pressure is worse. And he has not been able to see his wife and son because they live in Canada and are not U.S. citizens.
“Taken together,” Wilson wrote, “on the basis of Okoro’s pretrial detention, which was oppressive, the very real anxiety and concerns he has experienced due to this case, and the impairment to his ability to defend this indictment due to the extraordinary passage of time, the court finds that Okoro has suffered specific and general prejudice.”
Okoro’s lawyer, Kenneth Wesley Mishoe, told Law360 that his client was released the evening of Wilson’s decision.
“Regardless of whether the government ends up appealing, I hope that Judge Wilson’s decision breathes some new life into the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial,” Mishoe said.