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American cleric charged with 419 fraud

- Shawn Cohen, Journal News

(Monday, August 15, 2005)

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[ Whitworth said he deposited the check, waited for it to clear and then sent money to four "associates" of the "Nigerian," believing it would go toward the certificates. ]

Former Pastor Victor Whitworth said he hoped to be a conquering hero, planning to accept $10 million from a dying old woman and distribute it to financially strapped churches so they could carry on doing God's work. Instead, the 52-year-old Waterbury, Conn., man is charged with depositing a fraudulent check from the town of Ossining as part of a multimillion-dollar e-mail scam in which con artists pose as Nigerians. "What I was going to do is go around and donate this money to churches and tell them, 'Now your bills are paid, now start doing for God,'" said Whitworth, former pastor of the now-closed Victory Temple of the Church of God in Christ in Waterbury. "I wanted to help people and do what's right, and now I just got duped."

Police aren't sure whether he intentionally committed a crime, but said ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law. Whitworth said he received his first e-mail from the alleged 70-year-old Nigerian woman last year and believed her story that she had terminal cancer, had converted to Christianity and wanted to give her fortune to Christian churches and foundations. She wrote that she didn't want the money to go to her family because they were not Christians. She asked him to make her dying wish come true, and he was more than happy to comply. There was a hitch. The woman's "lawyer" told Whitworth that, before getting the money, he'd need special certificates to prove the international transfer wasn't intended for drug or terror use. The person claimed it was a post-Sept. 11, 2001, requirement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the papers would cost $35,000-$40,000.

Whitworth said he sent them about $5,000 of his own money and was assured other "investors" would pay the rest. In May, he received a $16,245 check from the town of Ossining. "I thought that was one of the investors," he said, though Ossining police learned that the check had originally been made out to the New York Power Authority. It was somehow intercepted by the con artists, erased and made out to Whitworth, said Ossining Detective Sgt. Mark Busche. Whitworth said he deposited the check, waited for it to clear and then sent money to four "associates" of the "Nigerian," believing it would go toward the certificates.

Ossining police tipped off Milford police, who arrested Whitford on Tuesday and charged him with first-degree larceny, a felony, and third-degree forgery, a misdemeanor. He was released on $50,000 bail and ordered to return to court Aug. 30. "Right now I'm in shock," Whitworth said yesterday. "I'm a victim here."

Busche suspects Whitworth knew he was committing a crime when he deposited the check. "I believe his failure to verify the origin of a check for over $16,000 from the town of Ossining in itself shows a knowledge that the check was not a gift," he said.

A forged Nigerian 419 document
[ Photo Above: A forged Nigerian 419 document ]
Click For More 419 Forged Documents

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