After months of police investigation, two SRU students have been arrested on charges including theft, fraud and forgery. The intra-national operation was reportedly run out of The Heights apartment complex, under two miles away from SRU.
The three students were running a scam in which they sold boxer puppies; victims were told to pay through Craigslist and the now defunct website, jamiespups.com. The orders were never filled.
On Tuesday, two of the students, Lawrence Njabon Francis, 37, and Lawrence Nana Tchakounte, 26, were arrested, with the third, Emmenuel Nkwate, 31, evading the police; a warrant has been put out for his arrest.
According to state police, The New Castle City Police Department contacted the state on March 21 regarding a possible instance of fraud they were investigating. The victim who had originally contacted the police said she had been dealing with an individual under the name of Bill Peterson, later found to be an alias of Tchakounte, who was selling boxer puppies through the aforementioned websites. The victim wired $583 through Wester Union, with the money being picked up on March 1, at a Giant Eagle in New Castle.
New Castle police reported two similar fraud cases involving Peterson, with the total amount stolen reaching almost $1,400.
Tchakounte agreed to be interviewed on April 7 by state police and admitted his full involvement as well as implicating Francis and Nkwate in the scheme. Tchakounte said his primary job in the operation was to collect the transactions from victims at locations in Butler, Mercer and Lawrence counties. The average payment per a victim was about $700.
According to state police, “Tchakounte and Francis entered the country on students visas and are attending SRU. Nkwate entered the country via Mexico and has applied for refugee status. He has since failed to appear for an Immigration Hearing in San Diego.”
A search of Francis’ room revealed nine Wester Union money receipts, which, according to state police, ranged in amounts from $52 to $1000. During the search, four laptops and three cell phones were confiscated.
Trooper Jim Long, public information officer for the state police, said that 10 victims of the scam have come forward and that there is currently not an exact number for how much was taken from victims in the scheme.
“$20,000 has been accounted for at this point but we’re expecting $50-60,000 once all the victims have come forward,” Long said.
The university declined to comment, citing that they were unable to comment on ongoing investigations.