Feb. trial set for 5 Kenyans in multistate scam

AP News
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Posted: Dec 21, 2009 5:28 PM

Five Kenyan nationals face trial in two months on charges emerging from an alleged multimillion-dollar scam that hit government officials in at least four states.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Stanley set the Feb. 22 date after each pleaded not guilty Monday at hearings in Charleston.

Conspiracy and wire and mail fraud charges against Michael "Mikie" Ochenge, 33, Robert "Robe" Otiso, 36, and Paramena "Joseph" Shikanda, 35, claim they helped trick public agencies out of funds meant for legitimate businesses.

The three are also charged with laundering some of the proceeds along with Albert Gunga, 30, and Collins Masese, 20.

All five were arrested in Minnesota last month. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has sought to keep Masese jailed, Stanley was told. She ordered the rest held without bail as well, citing the international scope of the case and the alleged use of a phony passport and other forged documents.

The indictment claims the scheme targeted West Virginia, Massachusetts, Kansas and Ohio and reaped more than $3.3 million. While the other states say they've since recovered their money, around $700,000 duped from West Virginia ended up in Kenyan bank accounts, prosecutors said.

The charges filed so far suggest the scheme was run from that country, and allege it relied on dummy corporations posing as companies that provide services to state agencies. The Internal Revenue Service and Secret Service continue to investigate.

Another Kenyan national living in the U.S., Angella Muthoni Chegge-Kraszeski, pleaded guilty last week to a conspiracy charge linking her to the scheme.