How do you catch a Maplewood mail ID thief? By issuing warrants in Africa

After fleeing prosecution in the U.S., 40-year-old Marcus Kwamena Benson, a former Maplewood resident, may have felt safe in his native land of Ghana for the last 3 1/2 years.

Unfortunately for Benson, he tried to board a flight to Kenya and was tapped by the long, long arm of U.S. law.

Benson was sentenced in federal court Jan. 31 for taking more than $860,000 from the accounts of other people's bank accounts.

United States District Court Judge David Doty sentenced Benson to 144 months in prison as a result of being convicted of numerous bank fraud charges, including:

• one count of bank fraud conspiracy

• nine counts of bank fraud

• three counts of access device fraud

• 10 counts of aggravated identity theft

• one count of possession of document-making implements

• one count of possession of unauthorized access devices and

• one count of possession of device-making equipment.

Evidence at trial demonstrated that Benson used the names and personal identification information of account holders to apply for and receive credit cards from financial institutions, which he then used to get cash advances.

Benson also obtained funds from the home equity accounts of others by ordering checks in their names, having those checks sent to addresses he controlled, and then using the checks to withdraw cash from the equity line accounts.

In all, the trial jury found that Benson used the identities of others on 10 different occasions.

Fraud via mail
According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, authorities began investigating Benson in June 2008, after being notified by a fraud inspector at US Bank about a high number of fraudulent online credit card applications.

Postal inspectors determined the card issued as a result of one of those applications was sent to a foreclosed St. Paul residence at which Benson had resided from August of 2003 to February of 2007.

On three subsequent dates, Benson was captured on surveillance video at a US Bank ATM, withdrawing money from an account associated with that card.

As part of their investigation, law enforcement executed a search warrant on Benson's Maplewood home on Aug. 25, 2008. They found Benson possessed document-making implements (computers, a scanner, and a printer) intended to produce false identification documents.

He also was in possession of 15 or more unauthorized credit cards as well as equipment used to make credit card encoders intended to defraud people.

Flight halfway around the world
It was a long time and many miles, though, from the original charges against Benson to his apprehension and sentencing.

Benson was indicted on Sept. 15, 2008, and following a four-day trial which ended with his conviction, fled to Ghana, using a false passport.

He recently was detained after attempting to fly from Ghana to Kenya. Ultimately, he was extradited to the U.S. and returned to the District of Minnesota.

During his absence from the U.S., law enforcement discovered Benson had also participated in a check-cashing scheme with multiple co-conspirators; that scheme had not yet been discovered at the time of his 2008 trial.

This case was the result of an investigation by the USPIS, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, the Minnesota State Patrol, US Bank, Capital One, Chase Bank and Citibank.

Following the sentencing, Acting Postal Inspector in Charge Tommy D. Coke, Denver Division, which includes the Twin Cities, said, "The sentencing today illustrates the commitment of Postal inspectors to the protect the U.S. mail by investigating those individuals who use the mail in the furtherance of their schemes to defraud."