Three men arrested in what was described as a stolen car packed with counterfeit passports, drivers’ licenses, and cash, are back on the street, after they faced relatively minor charges.
The three, believed to all be Nigerian citizens, were picked up near the corner of 83rd and Baltimore on January 23, in a Maserati SUV which came back stolen out of Ohio. Police alleged all were carrying counterfeit passports and driver’s licenses, mostly from Great Britain. The investigators said they also found nearly $40,000 in the car’s glove compartment, and over $13,000 in a coat elsewhere in the car.
Nevertheless, two of the men, Mayowa Balogun and Dolepo Badmus, were charged only with possession of altered documents, a class 4 felony which allowed them to receive I-bonds and walk out of court. The driver, Danteni Tijani, initially faced an additional charge of possession of a stolen motor vehicle. But that charge was later dropped.
Still, when Tijani appeared last week before Judge William Raines, when his attorney sought to have his bond reduced, exactly the opposite happened.
“I am using my judicial discretion on this and I think he is a flight risk based on all the information the State has read into the record,” Raines said. “I think bond was not appropriately set.”
Over the objections of defense attorney Jonathan Lerner, Raines set Tijani’s bond at $100,000, and ordered that he be placed on electronic monitoring if he managed to post that amount.
Which he did, with the aid of a friend, less than an hour later.
The judge was clearly outraged at the nature of the allegations. At one point earlier, he admonished Tijani in open court.
“You keep shaking your head, I’m going to hold you no bail!” he said. “That’s not how we do things here. Do you understand---I asked you a question?”
“Yes sir," Tijani replied. “Yes, your honor.”
Authorities were at a loss to explain why the charges were seemingly light despite the allegations that the three had obtained passports with their own pictures from overseas, primarily Great Britain. In court, it was presented that the documents had been obtained in short order for relatively little cost in Chicago.
“He stated that he couldn’t work with the current visa, so he bought the passports for $200 on the West Side,” prosecutor Deborah Lawler said. “He said he was the driver, and the stolen Maserati was his friend’s car and that he had received that Maserati from co-defendant Mayowa Balogun.”
A spokesman for State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said prosecutors had insufficient evidence to make charges pertaining to the stolen car stick. And that they had charged the document offenses to the fullest extent possible.
A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, Shawn Neudauer, said Homeland Security Investigations did provide assistance to Chicago Police.
“We coordinated with foreign governments to provide proof the documents were counterfeit, and provided investigative resources to aid in the local investigation that led to the charges,” he said. “Since the case had already been charged at the state level, there was no need to charge it federal.”
The three are scheduled to appear in court again later this month.
The police report stated that Tijani listed an address in Sauk Village. When a reporter from NBC 5 visited that address Wednesday, a neighbor and another man identifying himself as an apartment security official, said he had moved out last fall.