Invictus Obi: KICC pastor, family beg US court for leniency
A group of sympathisers is appealing to a United States court to temper justice with mercy on former Forbes U-30 honoree Obiwanne Okeke known as Invictus Obi over his conviction for wire fraud.
The sympathisers in separate letters of attestation to character sent to Rebecca Smith, the judge handling the case at a Virginia court, expressed shock about the involvement of Okeke in the unlawful activities and pleaded he be given a second chance.
One of such persons is Okeke’s pastor at Kingsway International Christian Center South Africa (KICC SA), Ikechukwuka Nwanze, Premium Times reported. Nwanze said the character of the convicted Okeke was not consistent with fraud.
“I know Mr Okeke, as he was a member of my congregation at KICC SA for a period of 5 years and at the time he was a student at Monash University in South Africa,” Nwanze said in a letter to the judge.
The pastor described Okeke as a “quiet young man with keen interest in business, especially real estate opportunities.”
“I was quite intrigued at the time that a young man his age wanted to make something of his life. He was involved in youth activities in the church and I had asked him at a time to be a keynote speaker at one of the business seminars for young people,” Nwanze said.
The pastor said “he was in complete shock when he found out the wrongdoings Mr Okeke committed”, insisting that “it was not consistent with the character he witnessed during his tertiary education and the period he was in the church.”
“I want to use this opportunity, your honor, to plead for leniency on your judgement and also on behalf of Mr Okeke, deeply apologise to victims of these nefarious activities and to the government of the United States,” Nwanze tolf the judge.
Okeke, the chairman of Abuja-based Invictus Group, before his arrest in 2019, was listed as one of Africa’s influential young entrepreneurs and was recognised by international media.
He was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) for conniving with certain individuals to defraud American companies and individuals between 2015 and 2019.
FBI obtained an arrest warrant and intercepted the fraudster in the airport while returning to Nigeria after a brief visit to the U.S. in 2019.
However, after months of denying his involvement in the crime before a federal judge in the U.S. and argument over jurisdiction, he pleaded guilty in June 2020 to the allegation of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and agreed to cooperate with American authorities.
The guilty plea helped Mr Okeke, who was initially indicted on two counts of computer and wire fraud, to secure the withdrawal of the second charge that carries lesser sentence and fines.
As part of his deal with the U.S. government, he would now enjoy immunity from prosecution on the same matter in the U.S. Eastern District of Virginia.
The district would also confirm the validity of the plea agreement in case Mr Okeke is charged over the same offence in another jurisdiction. Although his sentencing was initially scheduled for October 22, 2020, it was postponed to Tuesday for reasons unknown.
The conviction could see him spend 20 years behind bars with up to $250,000 in fines amongst other punishments, Premium Time reported.
Alongside Okeke’s pastor, his lawyer, John Iweanoge, begged the court to sentence him to a substantially lower jail term than required by the law.
In the court documents, detailing the defendant’s position on the sentencing, which was published by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Iweanoge argued that the guideline range of imprisonment of 97 to 121 months or 151-188 months “will be too much for someone of his age and status”.
“A sentence within either guidelines range would be nothing short of overly punitive for a 33-year-old, non-violent, first-time offender who checks nearly all the correct boxes with regard to his low risk of recidivism,” Iweanoge said.
“Moreover, a sentence within the guideline range would be disparate with many sentences imposed for individuals whose crimes had a much more severe and far-reaching victim impact.
“The court is charged with fashioning a sentence that promotes respect for the law, affords adequate deterrence, reflects the seriousness of the offense, and provides just punishment while also avoiding unwarranted sentencing disparities among defendants.”
Okeke’s brother and sister, Alexander Okeke and Florence Ozobugha in two separate letters, appealed to the judge to be considerate in her sentencing.
“I sincerely apologise on his behalf to the victims and I also ask that you consider is predicaments and show mercy to him because he is a young man that have future, young daughter and an aged mother who suffers from diabetics and they will suffer emotionally and otherwise, If you sentence him to a long period of jail,” Ozobugha pleaded.
“In sentencing, I urge that this Honorable Court consider all the mitigating factors before it with a view to striking a lenient or tempered balance in sentencing, taking into account the U.S. sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.”
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