For his key role in an international love scam scheme that stole $2.4 million from 39 Quebecers, including $800,000 that went directly through him, the Crown is seeking a four to five-year prison sentence for Sogli Espoir Kouassi. The defense advocates a penalty of two years less per day.
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Kouassi served as a transmission belt to send the scammed money to victims from Quebec to Côte d’Ivoire, where the leaders of this vast network operate. $800,000 of the total $2.4 million withdrawn went directly through the man, money from Quebec victims who in some cases lost everything.
Judge Mario Tremblay recalled these serious consequences for the victims during the hearing, which took place on Wednesday at the Quebec City courthouse. In one of the cases, a woman even had to be admitted to a psychiatric ward because of the anxiety and stress caused by the fraud that led to her bankruptcy.
“She lost her entire inheritance. She lost her home, her RRSPs, her investments. She moved into a small apartment and had to go back to work because of her debt situation,” said Judge Tremblay.
Too hard for the victims
Seven of the victims were scheduled to come and testify during surveillance at Sogli Espoir Kouassi’s verdict on Wednesday, but none of them ultimately appeared in court. The Crown stated that the stress of such an exercise was too great, so written statements were eventually submitted.
“As I read the documents, I am appalled at the consequences of that,” Judge Tremblay said. “I see the shame, the embarrassment, the mental health issues.”
These elements obviously weighed on the judgment proposed by the Crown. Just like the goal of denunciation and deterrence, “which in this case has a meaning that is difficult to describe,” pleaded Me Manzano.
“Cheaters in Africa, we cannot deter them. Where we can make it difficult is to make it clear that the intermediaries who are in Canada are not going to get out that easily,” the prosecutor said.
Sogli Espoir Kouassi was found to have siphoned off profits of approximately $150,000 from the fraudulent operation, he keeping odds of 10 to 30%.
Two years for the defense
The defense, for its part, argued that the fraudster’s sentence of two years less per day was justified, particularly because he was not the author of the fraud but rather a cog in the chain.
“In my opinion, the facilitator should not be punished at the same level as the person responsible,” said defender Me Gabriel Michaud-Brière.
In particular, in support of their proposal, the defense argued that the guilty plea avoided a lengthy and tedious process. “We are talking about 60 gigabytes of computer evidence. Over 30,000 unique files. It would have mobilized a lot of resources,” the lawyer recalled.
And a provincial verdict would also have “humanitarian” implications, Me Michaud-Brière pleaded. By allowing Kouassi to be held in Quebec, he was able to remain close to his two children.
“A prison sentence will make it more difficult for him to have contact with his children during his final moments in Canada, since he will then be deported,” argued the defense attorney. Sogli Espoir Kouassi is currently without status in Canada because the government has ended his efforts to obtain refugee status.
Judge Mario Tremblay took the case under deliberation and the matter will be brought back to court on May 30.
Prison sentence for an accomplice …
An accomplice of Sogli Espoir Kouassi, Yapo Landry N’Cho, was sentenced to six months less a day in prison on Wednesday for his minor role in the case.
The man, a friend of Kouassi’s, accepted that the scammer would use his bank account to wire a total of $55,000. He received a few thousand dollars in “commission” for his “willful blindness.”
Although he is the father of a 4-year-old child and does not have permanent residency status, the six-month-less-a-day sentence allows him to contest his deportation from Canada, a decision that would have been made automatic in the event of a harsher sentence.
And absolution for another…
Another accomplice, Mr Kouassi’s ex-wife, received a parole, a decision justified by her less important role in the system.
Also guilty of willful blindness, she facilitated money transfers to Côte d’Ivoire and received parcels at home of money sent by victims without knowing what was really behind it.
“The aim is for her to be able to have a job, take care of the child she had with Mr Kouassi and prevent that child from getting into an even more difficult situation with the DPJ,” explained Prosecutor Juan Manzano. to explain the general proposal to acquit Akissi Christelle Semon.
“My apologies to these victims and to all of Canada. I had no idea,” the woman in the courtroom pleaded.
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