Florida man accused in $100K US phishing scam claims innocence
Elvin Lewis Jr. named by city solicitor in July 2018 fraud involving Ottawa
The Florida man accused of defrauding the City of Ottawa of nearly $100,000 US is denying any knowledge of the scam, calling the allegations against him "ridiculous."
Elvin Lewis Jr., 52, hasn't been charged in relation to the 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.
But on Wednesday, two days after the incident was made public in a city auditor's report, city solicitor Rick O'Connor identified Lewis as the culprit.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Lewis called the accusation "mind-blowing."
I'm a victim in this, and they call what I did a 'money mule.'- Elvin Lewis Jr.
"I wasn't involved in ripping off the City of Ottawa. That's, like, ridiculous," Lewis laughed. "I'm a victim in this, and they call what I did a 'money mule.'"
According to O'Connor, Lewis is facing 11 unrelated counts of money laundering and conspiracy in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, stemming from a raid on his office in July 2018.
He's currently out on bail.
Handled money transfers
Lewis told CBC he'd been running a company called NuFinancial Consortium since 2004, offering real estate consulting services to clients looking to buy or sell property. He said a good part of his business involved handling money transfers from clients — hundreds each day, he said.
Lewis said his name came up in relation to the Ottawa scam because of a longtime client he wouldn't name, and whose whereabouts he claims not to know.
"I had an Asian nickname for him," Lewis said, but wouldn't reveal what it was. "I never met this guy, and we only talked on the phone."
Lewis said he believed he was handling legal wire transfers for the man, money he then invested in real estate on his client's behalf.
'Everything was cool'
"Everything was cool, and if there was a hiccup or problems that occurred, he had an explanation for it and that was that."
He said the client once told him he needed "an American person to help him out."
I would never know where the money comes from that clients send me.- Elvin Lewis Jr.
Lewis admits he didn't ask the man a lot of questions about the nature of his business.
"I would never know where the money comes from that clients send me. I'm doing what I'm told because that's what I'm paid to do," he said.
"Most people aren't calling me to get involved in money laundering, so my guard isn't up that way."
Lewis said he made between three and five per cent commission on the wire transfers from clients.
"I'm getting pennies on the dollar, but I'm not a criminal," he said. "I'm not the one hacking City of Ottawa emails or phishing or whaling or whatever it's called, and then having money sent to myself."
Lewis said he's closed his business and is now selling vacation packages for a travel company while he awaits his trial in July.