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(Miami Herald)   UM professor, holder of three doctorate degrees, fell for the infamous Nigerian email scam, sending a whopping $1.68 million to a Nigerian man he believed to be a Nigerian government official, solely based upon the man's claims in his emails   ( divider line 210
    More: Florida  
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25836 clicks; posted to Main » on 08 Jan 2005 at 12:08 PM (10 years ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»

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2005-01-08 10:08:05 AM  
all book smarts... no common sense. i know quite a few people like this. truly sad people!
2005-01-08 10:28:24 AM  
Don't forget greedy too.
2005-01-08 11:05:35 AM  
It's a register only site, and the registration process is a major pain in the butt. I used fake info and registered.
Here's the story for those of you who don't have too much time on their hands:

email this print this
Posted on Thu, Jan. 06, 2005

Read the lawsuit


Legal scholar in midst of check probe



When the Nigerian government e-mailed University of Miami law professor Enrique Fernandez-Barros for help, he said he felt flattered.

''They wanted me to review some infrastructure contracts based on my international reputation,'' said Fernandez-Barros, an expert on foreign law.

He said a purported Nigerian official promised in late 2003 to pay him for legal services if he would help the government and a well-connected Nigerian businessman recoup $1.68 million from a U.S. truck-leasing company. His incentive: $200,000 in fees for this and other work.

Fernandez-Barros, who holds three doctoral degrees, said he received the whopping check from Penske Truck Leasing, deposited it in his credit-union account and later had the money wired to Nigeria -- a sequence of extraordinary events that landed him in the middle of a U.S. Secret Service investigation and a federal lawsuit over the vanished funds.

In the civil suit filed a week ago in Miami, Penske claims that Fernandez-Barros helped rip off the company -- although the 73-year-old legal scholar says he believed that the Nigerian transactions were legitimate and he never received a penny.

''I'm 100 percent innocent; I've been used,'' said Fernandez-Barros, an adjunct professor who is scheduled to teach two classes in the upcoming spring semester.

He initially agreed to show The Herald some documents, such as the Nigerian e-mails, that he has shared with federal investigators, but his attorney, Mayra Trinchet, would not let him do so on Wednesday.


According to the suit, the Pennsylvania-based leasing company mailed a $1.68 million check to truck manufacturer Freightliner's Atlanta bank in December 2003 to pay for a new fleet of tractor-trailers. The check, however, never made it into Freightliner's account. How that happened is still a mystery.

Penske alleges that Fernandez-Barros somehow obtained the ''stolen'' and ''altered'' check. The suit, assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King, does not say who sent Fernandez-Barros the check, which included the same check number, date and signature as the original one, but also several noticeable differences.


But the truck-leasing company, headed by auto-racing team owner Roger Penske, is not suing the professor. To recover its lost money, Penske is going after its own bank, Fleet National, which approved the professor's transaction, and the University Credit Union, an independent provider of banking services for UM employees and students.

According to the suit, Fleet refused to restore the funds to Penske's bank account or to go after the credit union to recover the lost money.

Fernandez-Barros, a native of Cuba who has taught foreign law at UM for the past seven years, said in an interview that someone he believed was with the Nigerian government e-mailed him unexpectedly to solicit his legal expertise.


He agreed to do the work, which mostly involved reviewing public-works contracts for road, sewer and water projects. He said the purported Nigerian government official told him that he would be paid after he helped transfer the Penske check funds to that country.

Fernandez-Barros said the connected Nigerian businessman -- whom he never met in person -- arranged for an associate in Atlanta to send the Penske check via FedEx to his West Miami-Dade County home.

Fernandez-Barros said the businessman told him that Penske Corp., the holding company for the truck-leasing division, owed him the money from a stock sale. The law professor said he thought the check was authentic.

''I never altered the check, I never knew I was cashing an altered check, and I never took the money,'' Fernandez-Barros said Wednesday.

Fernandez-Barros said he followed through on the instructions: He wire-transferred all of the proceeds -- totaling $1,681,582.50 -- to the Nigerian government, the Nigerian businessman and two of the businessman's associates in Maryland. He said he was told that most of the money was supposed to reimburse the Nigerian government for a community public-works project.

Calls to the Nigerian embassy in Washington and the Atlanta consulate were not returned Wednesday.

U.S. authorities have long been investigating ubiquitous Internet scams allegedly tied to Nigeria. Most of those scams involve unsolicited e-mails that invite recipients to act as go-betweens in complex international financial transactions. In exchange for their help, the recipients are promised significant rewards -- but instead, their bank accounts are drained.

Officials of Penske, Fleet -- now part of Bank of America -- and the UM School of Law declined to comment about the lawsuit.

A Miami lawyer representing University Credit Union, which is not part of UM, defended its reputation.


''I would find it hard to believe that UCU ever used anything less than the most appropriate procedures in the handling and processing of checks and deposits,'' the lawyer, Michael Lozoff, said.

According to the suit, the credit union ''suspected that there might have been a problem with the authenticity and/or validity of the altered check'' and held it for seven days while the credit union contacted Penske's bank to verify its legitimacy. Fleet told the credit union that the ''altered check was legitimate,'' the suit says.

The credit union held the check for four more days to reconfirm its authenticity with Fleet. The bank gave its assurances a second time, according to the suit.


The credit union then cleared the $1.68 million check when Penske's Fleet bank account provided the funds to cover the check.

''At no point did anyone at Fleet or at UCU contact anyone at Penske to inquire if the check was legitimate or if Fernandez was the correct named payee [on the altered check],'' the suit alleges.

Now Fernandez-Barros, a former professor of Spanish at the University of Iowa who lives with his two dogs in a rental home, said he feels that he is the victim of an international scam. He blames the Nigerian government.

''They put me in the middle of this whole mess,'' he said. ``They used me like a chess piece to steal the Penske money.''
2005-01-08 11:19:59 AM  
A person I know was involved in four of these at once. When told that it was a scam his reply was "I figured they couldn't be legit. But I only need on of 'em to hit!"

/clueless dumbass
2005-01-08 11:30:56 AM  
Amazing. This professor is the living stereotype of the old, sheltered, clueless academic. Does he have any common sense?

I can't believe that the prof didn't ask any questions or do a modicum of research. He's a law professor, fer chissakes! The article doesn't make much of his greed either, of his being promised 200K. So he's clueless and greedy.

Give me street smart over book smart anytime.
2005-01-08 11:53:35 AM  
U of Miami? It makes perfect sense now.
2005-01-08 12:12:23 PM  
This isn't intended for me, I don't think.
It's a missive from the edge of despair, I mean brink
of total desperation; the communication therein
says her hopes for survival are slim
and she's writing to the Front, though we've yet to meet,
with a confidential matter cause she's heard I'm discreet.
And the urgency of her request for my aid
is matched by the depth of the trust she displayed.
"Don't betray me like our oil minister did, staged a coup
and I'm about to flee Nigeria soon
but I'll never make it out," she says, with twenty million
three hundred twenty thousand US dollars that are still in
her possession. She embezzled them, I guess.
Look, I don't really know her so uh... that's none of my business.
She's the LADY MARYAM ABACHA, deposed.
These days can't even get her caps-lock key unfroze
but yo, something 'bout a widow in distress
(with 20 million dollars hidden in a metal chest)
softened up the Frontalot's heart no doubt
so I hit the reply button, tell her I can help her out.

She writes me back: DEAR FRONTALOT, UNITED STATES...
she acts so thankful. A bank full of money awaits!
And I hate delays so I'm quick to turn around
with my full name and the number to my checking account
and the scan of my license to drive an automobile
and my passport number proving Frontalot's for real!
Then I'll meet the money in Stockholm, ain't gonna walk home,
think I'll retire to the south of Spain and sip gazpacho.
Not so quick, there's a little problem.
LADY A apparently had difficulty running all them
numbers I give her, but look, the fake ID's my only one
and that's a real passport, I got it off usenet and checked,
I'm not dumb. I'm not some idiot
who's about to lose your money for you, quicker than I'm getting it
and of course my bank balance is negative, whose isn't?
That's why I need your 20% money laundering commission.
And I'm wishing I could talk about this further with you but I can't.
I just got an email from DR. UBUGU of Chad.
He's got a hundred and seventy-seven million in a bag.
I feel I got to help him 'cause his story is so sad.

MC Frontalot
2005-01-08 12:12:30 PM  
Go Canes!
2005-01-08 12:13:34 PM  
P.T. Barnum is grinning in his grave.
2005-01-08 12:14:42 PM  
Sad thing is, he didn't lose any of his own money in this. So the lesson won't stick.
2005-01-08 12:14:57 PM  
well, this is not any professor, this is a law professor who has no excuse for not knowing better. law professors generally have been in the "real world" and aren't the typical sheltered academics.

2005-01-08 12:15:24 PM  
2005-01-08 12:15:49 PM  
Former NFL great Dexter Manley went to (graduated from?) Miami. The funny/sad part is, after his pro career ended he admitted he never learned to read!
2005-01-08 12:16:10 PM  
if nigerians were as industrious and entrepreneurial as they were in marketing their scam letters as they've been doing for the last 30+ years, they'd be an african powerhouse of a nation. my dad used to get their letters via snail mail as early as 1975. then faxes. now email. man there are a lot of stupid people....
2005-01-08 12:16:11 PM  
You would think that with as much press as this scam has gotten, and how easy it is to spot long before you actually send out money, that people wouldn't fall for it. It's become a stupid-people tax.
2005-01-08 12:16:40 PM  

There is nothing as stupid as an educated man if you get him off the thing he was educated in. - Will Rogers
2005-01-08 12:18:28 PM  
Penske writes checks for $1.6 million?

Even I wire large sums on dough.
2005-01-08 12:19:05 PM  
Oops! I was mistaken, Manley went to Oklahoma State.
2005-01-08 12:19:16 PM  
"This professor is the living stereotype of the old, sheltered, clueless academic. Does he have any common sense?"

My question is, what is his Fark user name ?
2005-01-08 12:20:36 PM  
I think the guy's vanity was called into play. Maybe he thought Nigeria was contacting him BECAUSE he was a law professor heehee. VANITY! My favorite sin!!
2005-01-08 12:20:46 PM  
While is applicable, I think that should have trumped it. Just my opinion.
2005-01-08 12:21:10 PM  
MorrisBird, thanks for posting the article, which apparently very few of the other Farkers have actually read.

It looks like this wasn't one of the run-of-the-mill e-mail scams, but was intended specifically for this law professor based on his area of expertise.

Does this mean that he wasn't an idiot for getting scammed? No, he's still an idiot. But he didn't get one of the typical, generic SPAMs that we've all come to love.
2005-01-08 12:21:25 PM  

Penske writes checks for $1.6 million?

Even I wire large sums on dough.

I was wondering that too. And how stupid is the prof for using his own account?


if nigerians were as industrious and entrepreneurial as they were in marketing their scam letters as they've been doing for the last 30+ years, they'd be an african powerhouse of a nation.

I keep thinking that running an internet cafe in Lagos is where the real money's at. All these people need web access somewhere.
2005-01-08 12:22:18 PM  
AndreMA: While is applicable, I think that should have trumped it. Just my opinion.

Then how would we know which UM they meant w/out RTFA????
2005-01-08 12:25:27 PM  
This 'sheltered academic' stereotype being mentioned is stupid. Were the hundreds (or thousands) of other people fooled by these scams sheltered? Sheltered doctors? Sheltered retirees? Sheltered housewives? Sheltered garbagemen? What I see here is typical jealousy of people way smarter than most of you.

/sheltered academic
2005-01-08 12:26:03 PM  
oh, I've heard this, there's one born every minute, oh what was that called...
2005-01-08 12:28:57 PM  
This calls for a picture of Nelson Muntz.
2005-01-08 12:29:05 PM  
Book Smarts don't = Street Smarts
2005-01-08 12:30:07 PM  
The 'nigerian email scam' is the most well known scam ever, how could anyone still be falling for it? If I go back to college, it won't be where he went, or is teaching.
2005-01-08 12:30:38 PM  
Exactly, chillybasen. There are a lot of UM's to pick from. Using D-1 NCAA basketball, you have Miami, Miami (Ohio), Marshall, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Mercer, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Marquette, Memphis, Marist, Manhattan, Mississippi, and Monmouth. And that's not even counting the States.
2005-01-08 12:31:19 PM  

Were the hundreds (or thousands) of other people fooled by these scams sheltered? Sheltered doctors? Sheltered retirees? Sheltered housewives? Sheltered garbagemen? What I see here is typical jealousy of people way smarter than most of you.

Yes, if they weren't sheltered they wouldn't have fallen for it, a scam that's older than the hills.
2005-01-08 12:31:20 PM  
Blue State/Red State flamewar in 3...2...
2005-01-08 12:32:21 PM  

that's a great line
2005-01-08 12:33:49 PM  
Maybe I'm reading a different article than many of you, but this doesn't look like the standard "Nigerian" scam. This looks like a much different "inside-job" type scam that just happens to also involve people in Nigeria.

That is, I don't follow all the comments that say "what an idiot he is for falling for such a widely publicised scam"

The professor didn't send any of his own money. He was acting as their lawyer and the company sent him the check for his client.

He was contacted about a contract issue for which he is an expert in. It wasn't like some random nobody who gets an email from a government official in Nigeria wanting their help for no obvious reason. They even sent him the contracts for review.

What's not so common, is that he personally cashed the check and then wired them the money. I wouldn't be so sure that he's not in on it somehow.

I've worked with a number of lawyers who I never met directly. We communicate in emails and phone calls and documents are sent by fax or fedex. Especially for contract reviews, this doesn't seem abnormal. His processing their $1.6M check directly does though.

/my 2 cents
2005-01-08 12:34:07 PM  
judasdiomedes, your comment is probably misplaced.

I assume you are referring to P. T. Barnum making a comment about a sucker being born every minute or something along those lines. If this is the case, please read this.
2005-01-08 12:34:29 PM  

2005-01-08 12:35:37 PM  
It wouldn't surprise me if he had made a career out of international scams and only just got his fingers burned in a way where he can justifiably cry "victim".
2005-01-08 12:36:45 PM  
2005-01-08 12:12:23 PM Makineri

Quoting me again?
2005-01-08 12:36:49 PM  
In other news, The University of Miami has professors.
2005-01-08 12:37:10 PM  
Ah good, Miami. I knew Michigan faculty couldn't be that dumb.

/except for the affirmative action lovers
2005-01-08 12:37:22 PM  
it's not like professor farnsworth here sent them/lost any of his money or is being sued by why cap on him
2005-01-08 12:39:35 PM  
OMG. What a complete, farking moran.
2005-01-08 12:39:58 PM  

What does 'cap on him' mean?
2005-01-08 12:40:24 PM  
Look at the bright side.

That dude probably has a 15" penis.
2005-01-08 12:41:27 PM  
Intelligence doesn't make a person invulnerable to mental instability. The only individual I know who was taken by these schemes is a very smart man, who just happens to be psychologically troubled at times.

I don't doubt my own closest relative to have become a tenured academic, who himself was very psychologically unstable for quite a while, might have been taken in by one of these things if the scam fit in with the beliefs his diseased mind had produced.

This isn't the kind of scam a "sucker" is brought into at all, in my opinion. It's the kind of scam that people in a moment of psychological rather than emotional weakness buy into. And academics are no more invulnverable to mental instability than anyone else.
2005-01-08 12:42:13 PM  
How bout a nice warm cup of DER?
2005-01-08 12:42:18 PM  
Nevermind. Thanks!

3. cap
cap is used by teens and some adults as another word for makin fun of some one such as crakin jokes on a person
stop cappin on me! yall foreva makin fun of me.

And about this guy- we should be less worried about him and more worried about the students he's teaching.
2005-01-08 12:42:59 PM  
2005-01-08 12:44:12 PM  
Chach:Ah good, Miami. I knew Michigan faculty couldn't be that dumb.

Minneasota faculty are that dumb. Along similar lines, how dumb is the poster to assume that UofM refers only to Miami? Seriously, how many UofM's are there in this country? People need to crawl out of their holes and quit being short sighted morans.
2005-01-08 12:45:44 PM  
Great Janitor:

The 'nigerian email scam' is the most well known scam ever, how could anyone still be falling for it? If I go back to college, it won't be where he went, or is teaching.

I second that. Especially considering that this guy was was well-educated professor, you'd think he reads the news once in a while. It's scary that people are still falling for this crap.
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