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Michigan treasurer falls for Nigerian scam

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A public treasurer in the Michigan county of Alcona stands accused of embezzling tax payers out of more than $1.2m, at least part of which was used to cover costs he incurred falling for a Nigerian banking fraud.

Thomas Katona, the former Treasurer of Alcona County, was charged with nine felonies. According to the Michigan Attorney General's office, the 56-year-old beancounter, who held his post for 13 years, also plowed $72,000 of his own money into the fraud.

County officials first suspected something was amiss late last year, when bank employees informed them Katona had sent eight payments totaling $186,500 to overseas accounts, six of which were associated with peddlers of the Nigerian scheme. He stepped down in November as authorities commenced an investigation.

They found that bank employees had warned Katona that the investment was a sham, but the treasurer ignored the warnings. An audit eventually showed that more than $1.2m was missing from county coffers. It remains unclear how much of that was paid to the scammers.

Last week a judge set Katona's bail about $1m.

The sad tale reminds us of the adage, incorrectly attributed to P.T. Barnum, that there's a sucker born every minute. While the common perception is that only trailer-dwelling louts fall for the get-rich-while-you-lose-weight-in-your-sleep scams, history shows otherwise.

Other victims of the 419 scheme who should have known better are said to include a Harvard professor and Ronald Reagan's neuroscientist. ®

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