Man in court, charged in Craigslist rental scam

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) The suspect in a Craigslist scam was arraigned Tuesday in Kern County court.

Tope Onosohare Jelugbo, 28, is accused of posing as a female college student, posting an ad on Craigslist seeking a room to rent, and forging checks.

"Jelugbo created falsified checks on his computer from Cal State University Bakersfield, and forged the signature on the checks," an officer's report in the court file says. "He mailed the false checks to the victim and requested MoneyGrams be sent to him."

A woman responded to the ad, thinking she was renting a room to a needy CSUB student, but she told Eyewitness News that she lost thousands of dollars in this scam.

According to the investigation reports filed in the case, Jelugbo is suspected in a string of bad check and rental scams across the country. The documents obtained by Eyewitness News show CSUB police started investigating in February.

Bakersfield Police started their probe when Rowland reported her case in June. An officer contacted campus police and found out the university "had been investigating several similar cases where checks had been written on CSUB's bank account and the victims had been answering ads off Craigslist," the report says.

In California, campus officers had investigated bad checks in West Covina, Chico and Hisperia. They got reports from Tampa and Jacksonville, Florida. Also from San Marcos, TX and Las Vegas, NV.

The scams seemed similar, with a prospective foreign student asking to rent a room, and then sending a large check, and asking for excess funds to be sent back. The bogus checks were sent with a letter from the "International Labour Organization," saying the "student" was getting a grant under the "Global Jobs Pack."

According to the investigation reports, officers later determined there is an organization by that name, but the scammer's message included the wrong name for the director, and misidentified the name of the jobs program.

In her incident, Kathy Rowland said the "student" told her that "she" only had one large check, which she would mail to Rowland, and asked the prospective landlady to keep enough to cover the room costs, and send back the remainder by MoneyGram. That person said she, or possibly he, needed the rest of the funds for expenses.

Rowland said the check was from CSUB, and she deposited it in her bank's ATM.

"The check cleared, and I sent them the remainder of the money," Rowland told Eyewitness News. The person framing themselves as a student then asked for a second refund via MoneyGram, and that's when Rowland started to get suspicious. She contacted CSUB and Bakersfield police and was told investigations were underway.

Investigators were able to track down where the MoneyGrams were cashed and then traced the Internet messages to an address in central Bakersfield, which was identified as Jelugbo's apartment.

Case reports show officers believe Jelugo had a phony Nevada drivers license, which was used to pick up the MoneyGrams. Investigators got security video where the funds were picked up, and linked that to Jelugbo. At that point, officers got a search warrant for his apartment.

On July 1, investigators went to the apartment and contacted Jelugbo. Officers say they found items including check-making software and bulk check stock, various labels and mailing materials, and "documents with various names."

"Jelugbo stated he was born in Nigeria and came to the United States approximately six years ago," the officer's report says. Jelugbo told officers he held various jobs, and then about two years ago enrolled in CSUB, majoring in economics.

Officers said they confronted Jelugbo, and asked about the check made out to Rowland. "I explained like this check, we had many others that we knew were made on his computer, forged by him, and printed on his home printer," the officer reports.

Investigators say Jelugbo said several years ago he came across a job offer on the Internet to make checks and pay prospective employees. He also reportedly said he was "simply following instructions and did not intend for anyone to lose their money or get hurt."

On Tuesday, Jelugbo entered a plea of not guilty. He's charged with two counts of burglary, two counts of forgery, possessing a drivers license to commit forgery and possession of a blank check. He's due back in court at the end of the month.