When Carolyn Modeste earned 30 months in prison a few weeks ago for stealing more than $200,000 from Miami Shores taxpayers, she nabbed a few hundred words in the Miami Herald and a quick mention on the afternoon news. But no one bothered to answer the real question: Why did the city's longtime comptroller take all that cash?
A gambling problem? A hopeless QVC addiction? Nope. The root of Modeste's crime is much, much dumber: She essentially fell for a classic Nigerian email scam and sent all that money to Africa.
"How could you not know this was a fraud?" one dumbfounded prosecutor asked the disgraced official after she pleaded guilty, according to a court transcript. Great question.
Modeste, a 44-year-old Trinidad native, had been Miami Shores' comptroller for twelve years. She had access to thousands in cash and checks every week from the town's recreation and police departments.
Around 2005, her father (who isn't named in court documents) fell for a whopper, she told prosecutors: Two orphans with a massive inheritance were stranded in Ghana and needed a benefactor to rescue them and their cash -- with a hefty reward, of course, for the Good Samaritan.
Modeste's dad actually traveled to the African nation and then convinced his daughter the story was legit. When he returned to the States, the pair began sending ever larger sums of cash to Ghana and Nigeria. The orphans were ready to move to the States and share their cash, Modeste and her father were told time and again -- there were just a few more documents and fees to turn over.
So she pilfered more and more to pay up. Some money went to "a man named Fritz." Other sums were wired to "the governor of Nigeria."
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"[I] was just stupid," Modeste admitted to prosecutors. "I said, wait, one more time. One more time ... This has to go through. I got to get my money back."
For five years, Modeste says, she sent every penny she stole to the scammers, believing all along that -- once that darn paperwork was sorted out -- she'd receive "maybe a million" bucks.
When Modeste gets out of jail, she'll have to repay the whole $200,000. Wonder where she'll get that kind of cash? Pssst, Carolyn. We know this Nigerian prince ...