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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Pros hacked Utah treasury

By Michael McFall, Staff Writer

Happiness Kimaro is a 29-year-old truck driver from Minnesota, and there is a warrant with her name on it.

The Utah government suspects Kimaro is connected to money laundering, theft by deception and forgery, communications fraud and engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity and conspiracy that involved stealing $2.5 million from the state using U tax codes, according to a public warrant. The worst of it is that she and a group of 12 others on the warrant might be the unknowing middlemen in a multimillion dollar theft that could have been avoided.

Those at Fault

The ringleaders who organized the con are seasoned professionals, said Mike Kessler, president of Kessler International, a forensic accounting and investigation agency in New York City. Kessler is personally investigating the case. The suspects hacked the Utah Division of Finance’s Web site seven times from two separate computers in Richardson and Plano, Texas. Once inside, they changed the U’s direct deposit information so invoice money would be directed toward a bank account in Arlington, Texas.

They then obtained the U’s tax codes and the U Campus Design and Construction’s vendor number and forged the department director’s signature to ask for $2.5 million in project funding from the state, according to search warrant affidavits.

“It was an obvious forgery,” said Ken Nye, the U’s director of facilities management. Linda Tingey, the Utah Division of Finance analyst who approves changes in billing information, could not be reached

for comment as to why the “obvious forgery” passed as a signature.

The U is not at fault in any way, Nye said. Tax codes and vendor numbers “aren’t like Social Security numbers, which have to be hidden,” he said. The U has to distribute that information every day in order to do business, so it would be detrimental if they had to keep those numbers close to the chest. The individuals probably found them on a Web site. Fault instead lies with the Utah Division of Finance, Nye said.

“It appears that (the division) has some significant problems with its utilities,” Kessler said. When companies or governments don’t keep their spamware detectors updated, Internet hackers can waltz right into their systems completely undetected, which seems to be what happened in this case, he said.

Special Agent Steve Sperry, the criminal investigator assigned to the case, said the Utah Division of Finance normally gives the U amounts of around $3,000 to $6,000. Asking for $2.5 million would have been seen as highly suspicious, but was overlooked because the forged documents said accounts needed to be closed out for the fiscal year, said Roger Farris, an accountant for the state finance office.

The Utah Division of Finance has taken extra precautions since the theft to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again, said spokeswoman Victoria Schoenfeld.

Unknowing Middlemen

Of the 12 men and women involved in the con job that robbed $2.5 million from the Utah state treasury, Kimaro appears to be in deeper than the rest. In August, Kimaro opened up a checking account with a Bank of America branch in Arlington, Texas. After the millions of dollars were wired to her account, Kimaro personally doled it out to the others8212;but she might have had no idea that she was taking part in the scam.

“The ringleaders will elicit the help of patsies because they need their assistance to transfer the money,” Kessler said.

Kimaro, as well as the other 12 recipients of the stolen money, might have been pulled into the con by falling for a Nigerian e-mail scam. In these scams, the e-mail’s author asks for the reader’s banking information so he or she can wire them money to temporarily keep safe. That might be what the ringleaders in this theft were hoping to do by dividing the $2.5 million 13 different ways: Cover their tracks then reclaim their reward after the heat dies down, Kessler said.

Divide it they did8212;the money was spread across three different states.

Hong Kil Tark, the largest recipient, received a $300,000 check at his Sun Trust Bank account in Orlando, Fla. Another $90,000 was wired to Duncan Ongaga in Irvington, N.J., who set up his bank account with the address for a church, not his home. Kimaro also wrote a $150,000 check for Rift Valley Investors, Inc. A company by the same name is headquartered in Atlanta.

The rest of the checks went out to other people from Texas.

Only $700,000 of the check was cashed in before Barbara, the Texas Bank of America clerk who first noticed something was wrong, raised the red flag and froze the accounts.

Now it’s up to the criminal investigators to follow the paper trail and find everyone involved, Kessler said.

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