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09.06.2007 Crime & Punishment

Ghana politician accused of NY limo scam

By SAMUEL MAULL-Associated Press Writer

The head of a limousine service was indicted on charges of helping to loot his business of more than $1 million and spending it on a political campaign in Africa, prosecutors said Thursday.

Augustine Asiedu and a colleague, Nick Zarbhanelian, stole the money from Brooklyn-based Fone-A-Car and two of its lenders from 2002 to 2005, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said.

Asiedu, Fone-A-Car's president, used the money to run for office in his native Ghana, on Africa's Atlantic Coast, where he now represents the Upper-Denkyira East District as a member of parliament, Morgenthau said.

Prosecutors were working with the U.S. Department of Justice to extradite Asiedu, also known as Nana Amoakoh.

Efforts to reach Asiedu for comment in Africa were not immediately successful.

Asiedu and Zarbhanelian, Fone-A-Car's chief financial officer, stole checks for about $700,000 written by Manhattan clients including investment banks and law firms for car services, Morgenthau said.

Asiedu, of Brooklyn, later wired a large amount of the stolen money to accounts he had in Ghana, Morgenthau said.

Asiedu also wrote more than $30,000 worth of checks from a Fone-A-Car account for deposit into the bank account of his girlfriend, Sebastiana Paul, of Brooklyn, who also is a defendant in the indictment, Morgenthau said.

Morgenthau said Asiedu, 52, and Zarbhanelian, 55, worked with Apurva Patel, 41, of Armonk, N.Y., to steal $325,000 from All Points Capital Corp., a financing and leasing company affiliated with North Fork Bank.

Asiedu, Zarbhanelian and Patel are charged with second-degree grand larceny and money laundering, punishable by 15 years in prison upon conviction. Paul, 43, is charged with third-degree grand larceny, punishable by seven years in prison.

Zarbhanelian, Patel and Paul pleaded not guilty at their arraignments in Manhattan's state Supreme Court and were ordered to return to court June 28.

Bail for Zarbhanelian was set at $500,000. Patel's bail was set at $250,000, which he posted, and Paul posted bail of $25,000 and was released.

A telephone call to a number listed for the car service rang unanswered Thursday, and phone numbers for the defendants could not be located.

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