This scheme “for years involved the purported sale of pets to the American public,” FBI Special Agent Joseph Ondercin said in an affidavit filed in court. He is with the FBI in Pittsburgh, in its computer intrusion squad.
Stung by puppy love
The imaginary puppies, in fact, were pawns in an international fraud scheme that authorities say has left multiple victims empty-handed. That’s despite paying for the dogs as well as for subsequent fake costs fraudsters asserted had been incurred, including for a supposed need to quarantine animals because of coronavirus exposure.
(According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a small number of pet dogs in the U.S. have reportedly been infected with the coronavirus, but there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus to people.)
Other fake issues triggering requests for more money from the victims included a supposed need to buy insurance or to obtain a U.S. Department of Agriculture permit.
5,000-mile journey to justice
Charged in the case is a 28-year-old African student who was living in Romania before being extradited some 5,000 miles to Pittsburgh. He made his first court appearance April 27 and is due back in court May 3.
The defendant, Desmond Fodje Bobga, is a citizen of Cameroon. He was arrested last Dec. 3 in Cluj, Romania, at the request of U.S. officials. His alleged crime spree ran for about two years, ending around June 2020, so some of the puppy sales he and his co-conspirators allegedly conducted predated the pandemic, prosecutors say.
Bobga faces charges including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and forging a U.S. Supreme Court seal. Among the fake documents in the case were a puppy’s “Crate and Vaccine Guarantee” document, supposedly issued by the Supreme Court.
Prosecutors have asked that Bobga be detained before trial saying a “serious risk exists that defendant will flee.”
His public defender, Sarah Levin, said in an email that she “will not be making a comment” on the case.