By Abdallah el-Kurebe
The investigation revealed a very troubling pattern throughout Abegunde’s case. This troubling pattern manifested in the form of the elevation of mere unsubstantiated allegations to the level of sacred truth, and a concomitant continuous rejection of actual evidence. This was the recurring theme from the initial indictment, through the arrest, the bond hearing, the superseding indictment, the trial, the motion for judgement of acquittal due to insufficient evidence, sentencing, and the appeals.
Abegunde’s arrest and Indictment: On February 7, 2018, FBI agents arrested Olufolajimi Abegunde while on his way to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) in Atlanta Georgia to reschedule a flight to the Dominican Republic. The flight postponement, Abegunde said, was because he had not received a long awaited Immigration travel document from the United States Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS). He was eventually presented with an indictment charging him in the Western District of Tennessee with Wire Fraud Conspiracy, Money Laundering Conspiracy and Aggravated Identity Theft.
Abegunde’s arrest by the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officers took place after his trip to the Dominican Republic had already been rescheduled. The initial ticket was scheduled for a departure from Atlanta on February 7, 2018 and return on February 10, 2018. The rescheduled ticket was booked to depart Atlanta on August 30, 2018, and return on September 2, 2018. Click here to view the travel itinerary that Abegunde successfully rescheduled just before his arrest.
The ICE arrested Abegunde on behalf of the FBI and presented an arrest warrant. Click here to view the warrant that was presented to Abegunde when he was arrested and advised him to handover the items in his possession to his friend Mr. Hameed. Shortly afterwards, according to Abegunde, the actual arresting officer, FBI special agent Carlos Carrasquillo arrived along with two other FBI agents and walked him to the FBI office at the Atlanta airport and then to the federal courthouse in Atlanta.
“I was shocked and devastated by the contents of the arrest warrant. It showed that I had been charged with committing Wire Fraud Conspiracy, Money Laundering Conspiracy, and Aggravated Identity Theft. What I found most baffling was that the charges originated from Memphis Tennessee where I had absolutely no prior connection with. I had never been to Memphis, I had no friends or business associates in Memphis, I never had anything at all to do with Memphis since I came to the U.S. in 2014,” Abegunde bemoaned.
Abegunde said was taken to see a public defender — Ms Judy Fleming who brought out the unsealed initial indictment Click here to view the initial indictment and advised Abegunde that he was entitled to a bond hearing at the federal court house. “I looked through the indictment and saw the name Luis Ramos Alonso which immediately rang a bell. I also saw my name, Ayodeji Ojo, and a host of other names I had never come across in my life. It was then that I had an idea regarding what was really going on. I complained to the public defender that none of the allegations on the indictment rise to the level of crimes. I kept telling her there is no crime here. The indictment simply says I granted a friend permission to utilize my address and phone number to open a bank account. In response, the public defender said the indictment does not tell the whole story. She then said there is something called discovery, and when the government releases the discovery, I would know the full picture. But I kept insisting that there cannot possibly be any evidence of any crimes committed by me since such crimes do not exist. But she remained aloof.”
Abegunde said he was eventually taken to the courthouse for the bond hearing. Court records show that the travel ticket seized by agent Carrasquillo indicates a travel date other than the date of Abegunde’s arrest. “Rather than request that the FBI Agent release the flight change confirmation receipt, and then present the receipt to the court — which would have served as indisputable evidence that I did not intend to flee the U.S. — the public defender did not offer much resistance.” When contacted for comments as to whether the travel documents found on Abegunde during his arrest indicated he was traveling out, the Federal Public Defender, Judy Fleming — the Attorney who represented Abegunde at the Atlanta bond hearing, did not respond to the request for comments.
Abegunde was denied bond on the premise that he was a flight risk. “They say I was a flight risk, but I travelled out of the U.S. to Bahamas in July of 2017, four months after the FBI agents knocked on my door in March 2017. If I knew I was under investigation and intended to flee, why didn’t I flee at that time?” Abegunde asked. Abegunde’s travel history contained in his I-94 shows that he travelled out of the U.S. in July 2017 and returned days after.
At Abegunde’s trial, FBI Agent Carlos Carrasquillo testified that that Abegunde did not intend to flee the U.S. on the day of his arrest. Carrasquillo’s testimony also showed that one week before his arrest, Abegunde had successfully applied what Abegunde described as a cost saving tactic for rescheduling flights at the Atlanta airport.
Under direct examination by Timothy Flowers asked Carrasquillo about the circumstances of Abegunde’s arrest and Carrasquillo said “So I had received information from the case agent indicating that mister…. Abegunde was scheduled to depart the United States actually from Atlanta, continuing to Fort Lauderdale, with the Dominican Republic as his final destination. He indicated to me that he had a warrant for his arrest. So he requested our assistance to arrest Mr. Abegunde.” Flowers then asked Carrasquillo “Now, what happened with the first time that you attempted to provide assistance?” Carrasquillo responded by saying “So, I identified the departure gate or flight. I went to the gate. Everyone boarded the aircraft, but Mr. Abegunde did not show up for the flight.”
Regarding Carrasquillo’s actual encounter with Abegunde on the day of Abegunde’s arrest, Flowers asked Carrasquillo “What were the circumstances of that, sir?” In response Carrasquillo said “So, again, he was supposed to depart, again, for the Dominican Republic. Again, I went to the gate. The aircraft door was about to close, and Mr. Abegunde had not checked in or showed up for the flight. So I asked one of our officers that I know — he patrols different concourses of the Atlanta airport. I asked him to go to the main terminal where Spirit Airlines has a counter or presence in an attempt to identify him.” (See Document 353: Agent Carlos Carrasquillo Testimony, March 12, 2019, PageID 3152-3154).
Under cross examination, Abegunde’s attorney asked Carrasquillo two key questions “And so it’s not breaking any sort of law to come into an airport and change your future travel plans from a kiosk as opposed to doing it at home, correct?” and “If a person, in their minds, if they wanted to save money on travel plans, future travel plans, they go to the airport and they put their future travel plans into the kiosk or wherever, there’s nothing illegal or wrong about that, correct?” Carrasquillo responded to both questions by saying “correct.” Abegunde’s attorney went further “And on that particular day he had not made it actually past what I’m calling the gate — and you can give me the right terms for it — the gate to actually do travel, where you have to go through and get, go through the security.” Carrasquillo responded by saying “You’re correct, sir.” Pressing further, Abegunde’s attorney asked “He hadn’t made it to a security checkpoint, had he?” Carrasquillo answered “To my understanding, that’s correct.” Finally, Abegunde’s attorney asked “And you had no reason necessarily to know that Mr. Abegunde would have known that he was being investigated or that there was someone to be on the lookout for him with you, right?” Carrasquillo responded by saying “correct.” (See Document 353: Agent Carlos Carrasquillo Testimony, March 12, 2019, PageID 3164-3166).
From Carrasquillo’s testimony, Abegunde did not intend to flee the U.S. on the day of his arrest. Hence, it can be reasonably inferred that Abegunde did not pose a risk of flight as the Government falsely argued.