The man, Michael Kyereme, who works as an information technology specialist appeared in court accused of stealing thousands of dollars from corporate vaults to give to the needy in Ghana, reports from Newark, New Jersey say.
A report in the Star-Ledger newspaper describes Kyereme as viewing himself as a modern-day Robin Hood, who stole to give to the poor in his homeland of Ghana.
But, according to the reports, a law enforcement agent who testified at Michael Kyereme’s sentencing hearing in Newark Wednesday painted a different picture, one of a man more interested in living in the lap of luxury.
The contrasts came as U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden decides how much time in federal prison Kyereme deserves for raking in millions by reselling new parts that had been ordered for the city of Newark’s computer system.
The reports said when he pleaded guilty in July, Kyereme, who worked for Specialty Systems Inc. of Toms River, acknowledged his fraud. He also said he failed to report the illicit profits on his tax returns.
According to authorities, Newark had contracts with Specialty Systems to provide computer troubleshooting service and with Cisco Systems to supply replacement parts. Kyereme pulled off his fraud by claiming hardware that wasn’t defective needed to be replaced, getting Cisco to ship new or refurbished parts, then selling those parts to third parties and pocketing the money, they said.
The reports said Deborah J. Gannett, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case, has asked for a sentence of between 57 and 71 months. Defense attorney Mark Rufolo wants a term of only 41 to 51 months.
And therein lies the issue of what Kyereme, of Piscataway, did with the money. Rufolo has argued his client deserves a break because a substantial portion of it went to good causes, primarily schools and ministries in Ghana for items such as buildings, books and musical instruments.
The judge listened to the testimony of two witnesses before reserving decision and scheduling sentencing for Jan. 20. The first witness, a fraud investigator with Cisco Systems, spoke about Kyereme’s level of computer sophistication.
But it was the testimony of Michael Palermo, a detective with the Port Authority assigned to a federal task force that investigated Kyereme, who damaged the defendant’s claims of charitable largesse.
Gannett got him to detail what happened to the $2.3 million obtained in the fraud that was found in one of Kyereme’s bank accounts, as well as money in other accounts. Palermo said the documentation showed the expenditures were primarily for Kyereme and his family.
In a March 2007 interview with authorities, Kyereme said he gave some money to charities, but a paltry amount he could never document, the detective said.
In his cross-examination, Rufolo said investigators don’t know what Kyereme did with all his money and suggested he sent tens of thousands of dollars to learning and religious institutions in Ghana that were never documented.
Asked whether he was aware of each of those contributions, Palermo replied more than once: “There was no receipt indicating that.”
According to the reports, Palermo testified that Kyereme spent between $400,000 and $500,000 of his unlawful proceeds on an upscale condominium in Ghana, $300,000 to $400,000 on a home in Ghana and $100,000 to $150,000 to renovate his parents’ home in Ghana.
He also purchased a four-block area of commercial property in Accra, Ghana’s capital, turned over more than $100,000 to an investment company, invested $35,000 in two funds, sent his father close to $300,000 and also sent $10,000 to Ghana in an untraceable transfer, Palermo said.
The detective testified that Kyereme renovated his home in New Jersey and furnished it with high-end electronic equipment, bought two condominiums in Delaware and always flew first-class with his family when they traveled to Ghana.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi