New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Daniel B. Brubaker, Postal Inspector in Charge, Postal Service Inspection Service, New York Division, announced the arrest of BAKARE DOUKOURE, SANNEH TUNKARA, and LASSANA SYLLA on mail fraud and identity theft charges arising out of their scheme to fraudulently obtain unclaimed funds held by the New York State Comptroller’s Office of Unclaimed Funds. TUNKARA was arrested on July 19, 2022 and presented before the Hon. Andrew E. Krause, United States Magistrate Judge. SYLLA surrendered upon learning of an outstanding arrest warrant and was presented before Judge Krause on July 20, 2022. Earlier today, DOUKOURE also surrendered upon learning of an outstanding arrest warrant and was presented before Judge Krause.
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said: “The defendants allegedly unconscionably stole people’s identities to submit claims for money that did not belong to them, stealing from those who had unclaimed funds held by the state. Thanks to the work of my investigations team, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the United States Postal Inspection Service and the New York City Housing Authority’s Office of Inspector General, they have been arrested and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As alleged in the Complaint, Bakare Doukoure, Sanneh Tunkara, and Lassana Sylla defrauded over 100 unsuspecting New York residents out of money to which they were entitled that was held in trust by the New York State Comptroller’s Office of Unclaimed Funds. My Office and our partners in law enforcement will not stand idly by when wrongdoers target government programs designed to protect the assets of the people of this State.”
USPIS Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Division Daniel B. Brubaker said: “The defendants thought no one was looking while they carried out their scheme to defraud the New York State Comptroller’s Office, and in an attempt to hide their crimes steal the identities of numerous victims. They gamed the system for over one hundred thousand dollars and tarnished the names of innocent people, all in the pursuit of their greed. However, Postal Inspectors and our law enforcement partners are ever vigilant when it comes to exposing fraudsters. We will commit every resource available to us in the fight against identity theft and fraud. Today’s arrests should also serve as a warning to anyone who uses the mail for illegal purposes: once Postal Inspectors are on the case, it’s game over for the bad guys."
According to the allegations in the Complaint filed yesterday and unsealed today:
New York State’s Abandoned Property Law requires banks and other financial institutions to transfer abandoned customer funds in their custody to the Office of Unclaimed Funds after a specified period of time. The Office of Unclaimed Funds maintains an online database in which anyone can search to see if the Office of Unclaimed Funds is holding any unclaimed funds in someone’s name. The owner of the funds can recover the money from the Office of Unclaimed Funds by filing a claim and proving he or she is the rightful owner of the money by providing personal identifying information such as a Social Security number or an address. New York State has approximately $17.5 billion in unclaimed money with more than 46 million account records remaining unclaimed. The Office of Unclaimed Funds returns over $1.5 million to individuals, companies, non-profit organizations, and municipalities daily.
An investigation by the State Comptroller’s Office initially discovered the identity theft and the fraud. State Comptroller investigators brought the matter to the federal authorities and worked jointly with the Postal Inspection Service and the United States Attorney’s Office to fully uncover the scheme.
From at least in or about June 2012 to in or about April 2018, DOUKOURE, TUNKARA, and SYLLA worked together in a fraudulent scheme in which they filed fraudulent claims with the Office of Unclaimed Funds for abandoned monies held in trust by the New York State Comptroller. Bank records show that, during the relevant period, the Office of Unclaimed Funds issued approximately 170 checks made out to approximately 120 different payees that were deposited into approximately eight different bank accounts that were controlled by either DOUKOURE or TUNKARA.
In connection with the scheme, bank accounts controlled by DOUKOURE and TUNKARA were used to make purchases from online databases that collect public records on individuals, such as names, dates of birth, and addresses. DOUKOURE and TUNKARA also used stolen identities to perpetrate their scheme, including fake driver’s licenses.
DOUKOURE, 54, of the Bronx, New York, has been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, and two counts of aggravated identity theft, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 4 years in prison. TUNKARA, 38, of the Bronx, New York, has been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years in prison. SYLLA, 47, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and mail fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by a judge.
The charges in the Complaint are merely accusations, and DOUKOURE, TUNKARA and SYLLA are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of Postal Inspectors with the United States Postal Inspection Service, Investigators with the Office of the New York State Comptroller, and Investigators with the New York City Housing Authority’s Office of Inspector General.
Since taking office in 2007, DiNapoli has committed to fighting public corruption and encourages the public to help fight fraud and abuse. New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money by calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, by filing a complaint online at https://www.osc.state.ny.us/investigations, or by mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 8th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236.