A judge gave a former research assistant at Montana Tech a three-year deferred sentence Thursday for his part in a scheme to acquire large quantities of clothes from Joseph A. Bank, Land’s End, and other retailers and have them shipped to his home country of Ghana.
Samuel Amponsah, 28, said he was sorry for his actions and just wanted to “get back to school.” But his attorney, Kevin Vainio, said he expected federal immigration authorities to deport his client back to his African country soon.
After Thursday's court hearing, Amponsah was handed over to officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, but their plans were not immediately known.
Earlier, Vainio asked District Judge Kurt Krueger to set the deferred sentence for the 279 days Amponsah has been in jail since his arrest for theft on Oct. 16, which would effectively negate probation restrictions if he’s allowed to stay in the U.S.
But Ann Shea, the lead prosecutor in the case, said the scheme involved stolen identities and credit cards and that Amponsah picked up packages at different addresses, and authorities found his own apartment stuffed with stolen merchandise.
“We need to monitor him; we need to make sure he’s not out there creating victims again,” she said.
Krueger agreed, saying jail time already served was punishment, but “it doesn’t necessarily show they can get out and conform with all the rules of society.”
“This is very serious crime,” Krueger said. “It was a very serious crime involving a multitude of transactions.”
Amponsah had a student visa and was a graduate student in mining engineering and a research assistant at Tech when police served a search warrant at his apartment on the 1000 block of Missoula Street.
Police said they were investigating fraudulent credit card transactions or shipments of clothing. They found large quantities of new clothes from Land’s End, Joseph A. Bank Clothiers, Cole Haan, WeeJun, and several other retailers. They also found four new cell phones in their original boxes.
Amponsah admitted he was involved in fraudulent mail orders and had let a friend in Ghana have packages from retailers sent to his apartment, documents show. He said he then sent the items to Ghana, where his friend was trying to open a boutique, prosecutors said.
He told police he had taken packages from porches of other residences on Missoula Street, prosecutors said, and other items were sent to his apartment through credit card numbers that had been obtained online.
Amponsah initially pleaded not guilty in the case but later pleaded guilty to a felony count of deceptive practices, common scheme. It carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Efforts to contact the clothing retailers about the thefts were unsuccessful, Shea said, so a restitution amount couldn’t be determined. The victims ended up being large banks and credit card companies, she said.
But a deferred sentence was appropriate, she said, in part because Amponsah had no prior criminal record.
Amponsah, who took the stand during Thursday’s sentencing hearing, said he told police the day he was arrested that he wanted to make restitution. He also said he had a perfect 4.0 grade point average at Tech.
“I wish it had never happened,” he said. “I will make sure I never commit such a sin or make this mistake again.”