Thomas Katona, 56, treasurer of rural Alcona County, Mi., is accused of losing at least $186,500 in county funds to a notorious Nigerian investment fraud, the kind of seemingly transparent schemes that people delete from their e-mail boxes every day, the Detroit Free Press reports. An ongoing audit says that more than $1.2 million in county money is missing. The county sheriff, whose department eats up about half the $4 million county budget each year, worries he’ll have to cut patrols. Government workers fret over their pensions. There is anger that officials were unable to spot the fraud earlier, and there is confusion over how someone with an accountant’s smarts could have fallen for such a scheme.
Last summer, Katona began telling people he had found an excellent investment opportunity overseas. In so-called Nigerian frauds, the victim receives an unsolicited e-mail saying a relative of a corrupt official needs help to transfer millions of dollars out of the country and, in exchange, the helper will get a chunk of the cash. Next come requests for funds to bribe officials, pay fees, or to buy chemicals to wash currency that has been blackened to disguise it.