Florida man convicted of defrauding City of Ottawa

A Florida man accused of defrauding the City of Ottawa out of more than $100,000 has been found guilty by a U.S. judge.

City treasurer sent more than $100K after receiving emails from scammer

Elvin Lewis Jr. told CBC in April he, too, was an unwitting victim of a scam targeting the City of Ottawa. (Submitted)

A Florida man accused of defrauding the City of Ottawa out of more than $100,000 has been found guilty by a U.S. judge.

Elvin Lewis Jr. was convicted late last week on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering, following a five-day trial. 

Lewis had been charged in relation to a July 2018 scam targeting city treasurer Marian Simulik. Acting on an email from someone posing as city manager Steve Kanellakos, Simulik wired $97,797.20 US — currently worth about $130,000 Cdn — to a U.S. bank account. 

Then-city solicitor Rick O'Connor identified Lewis as the culprit in April after the incident was made public in a city auditor's report.

Scammers laundered $3M US

Lewis and his co-conspirators also sent fake emails and invoices to a power company in Ohio and a trucking company in Tennessee, directing them to make payments to various bank accounts through wire transfers, according to Florida prosecutors. 

The scam laundered approximately $3 million US in less than one year, according to the investigation involving the FBI and U.S. Secret Service in Florida.

Lewis kept $160,000 USD in cash for himself, and acquired a Porsche, which law enforcement officials later seized.

Claimed he was a 'money mule'

In April, Lewis told CBC the accusations against him were "mind-blowing," claiming he was innocent and had been unwittingly used by the scammers.

"I wasn't involved in ripping off the City of Ottawa. That's, like, ridiculous," Lewis said. "I'm a victim in this, and they call what I did a 'money mule.'"

The scam perpetrated on the city treasurer is known as "whaling" because it targets big fish such as CEOs and chief financial officers of major corporations, including municipalities.

In July 2018, Simulik received a fake email asking her to pay a city IT supplier, which she assumed had something to do with an overhaul of the website. After a few emails back and forth, she authorized and sent the requested amount to a U.S. bank account.

Lewis is expected to be sentenced on Jan. 10, and could receive a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each of the 11 counts he was convicted on.