FARGO, N.D. — “He came to us as Donald Douglas.”

That’s how Anni Adkins begins the story of how her two-person background checks firm in the Desert Southwest helped bring down what authorities call one of the largest high-tech bank robberies and one of the most complicated fraud investigations in U.S. history.

Donald Douglas, in reality, is Adekunle Adetiloye. Federal investigators said the 40-year-old Nigerian native living in Toronto helped organize a scheme that stole the identities of 38,000 people and bilked 600 credit card and bank accounts out of about $1.5 million.

Adetiloye is sitting in a Fargo jail, waiting to serve an 18-year prison term after pleading guilty to mail fraud.

Adkins and Joe Hoover are the owners and operators of Investigative Professionals LLC, based in New Mexico. They do background checks for individuals and companies, with about 450 members. Adkins told The Associated Press in a phone interview that she knows most of her clients.

She thought she knew Donald Douglas.

“He’s a very presentable young man,” Adkins said of Adetiloye. “I’m sure if he had taken his talents and developed a real business, he would have done real well.”

Instead, a federal judge is trying to figure out the amount of money that should be paid back to victims of the scheme.

Prosecutors said Adetiloye used the stolen identity of Donald Douglas to obtain corporate status and a business license from the state of Delaware for Syspac Financial Services, Inc., supposedly a debt collection company. Court documents show that Adetiloye had a Donald Douglas credit card in his wallet when he was arrested in Toronto on Dec., 1, 2007, kicking off the investigation in this case.

Adetiloye was able to access personal information of others through his membership with Investigative Professionals.

This image provided by Investigative Professionals on Sunday, March 4, 2012 was used for fingerprints and other evidence in the case of federal credit card fraud case that was tried in North Dakota. (AP Photo/Investigative Professionals) “We were like a middleman, basically,” Adkins said. “This guy is really smart, and he’s as much a con man as he is an identity thief.”

Adkins and Hoover said they were angered by the scam and worked with the feds for about six weeks at the end of 2008 and start of 2009. The company in a cat-and-mouse game was able to coax Adetiloye into mailing a money order that allowed investigators to obtain his fingerprints, among other evidence.

Adetiloye also left a voice mail message saying he was sending a check to Investigative Professionals for an account. Investigators told the company that the recording “was the nail in the guy’s coffin,” Adkins said.

The voice message ends with Donald Douglas wishing Adkins a merry Christmas.

U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon, who released a statement following Adetiloye’s sentencing on Jan. 23, said earlier this week that prosecutors would no longer talk about the case. He would not give a reason.

However, U.S. Postal Service investigators said in emails to Adkins and Hoover that they provided “outstanding assistance to the investigation” and said their cooperation was invaluable.

The investigation picked up steam after it was discovered that Adetiloye was unemployed and receiving limited welfare, yet ponied up for a Range Rover vehicle, extended trips to England and an expensive condominium. Greg Krier, lead credit card fraud investigator for U.S. Bank, testified during the sentencing phase that it was the most complex case he had ever seen.

The case wound up in North Dakota after a U.S. Bank call center in Fargo intercepted calls from Adetiloye and others. Defense attorneys have claimed that Adetiloye’s participation in the scheme was minimal compared to others who were involved and he wasn’t a leader of the operation. Only Adetiloye has been charged.

“I didn’t realize their operation was so big. I was just happy to get one of them out of there,” Adkins said.

“We’re small potatoes in this whole thing, but we played a part,” Hoover said. “This falls into the category of civilians helping the government.”

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