Today’s post was written by Jessica Lee, a summer intern in the Reference Section, Civil records team at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
In a previous blog post, I wrote about an interesting fraud case I discovered in the records of the Fraud Order Case Files, 1894-1951 (NAID 2660896). That file pertained to the “White Wizard”, a man from Tacoma, Washington, who sold horoscopes though the U.S. Mail.
As with my previous blog, the name of the accused party stood out: “Prince Richard, Onikoyi of Ikoyi” of Lagos, Nigeria. My first thought was that this couldn’t possibly be anything like the infamous scam on the Internet, where a supposed member of a foreign royal family emails an individual asking for financial assistance in exchange for which said individual will supposedly receive even more money.
Upon delving into Fraud Case 8011 (by Order No. 39606 on January 17, 1949) more, I found myself returning to the saying “everything old is new again.”
To understand the procedures when dealing with mail fraud, the general charge against the named parties was “conducting a scheme or device for obtaining money through the mails by means of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises.” Once the Postmaster General brought this charge against someone, postmasters were essentially forbidden to deliver any money orders, letters, and other mail matter to said party and were directed to return these materials and/or inform senders that the delivery of these materials has been forbidden.
In this instance, the Senior Trial Examiner assigned to the case, James C. Haynes, Jr., submitted a “Finding of Fact and Recommendations to the Postmaster General for the Issuance of a Fraud Order” on January 13, 1949. According to Haynes’ report, Prince Richard wrote to people in the United States and requested “that various sums of money and articles of clothing be sent him,” and in return he would “send items of jewelry and other articles of Nigerian production.” Prince Richard also claimed “that he is related to a Nigerian potentate, that his ‘palace grounds’ are at 107 Victoria Street, and that he has three stores in Nigeria which sell African products.”
Haynes went on to say that, based on evidence collected by the Office of International Trade of the Department of Commerce and by the American Consul General in Nigeria, Prince Richard was in reality “a sixteen-year-old youth who has no stores of merchandise as he represents, that he is in no sense related to Nigerian royalty, that his title of ‘Prince’ is but a figment of his imagination, … and that his correspondence with the persons solicited in the United States always ceases as soon as the money or articles sent to ‘Prince Richard’ have been received by him.” Based on Haynes’ recommendation, a fraud order against Prince Richard was issued by the Postmaster General several days later.
I found a similar fraud case (No. 8104, by Order No. 40903, issued on July 1, 1949) concerning one “Prince Bil Morrison” of Lagos, Nigeria was charged. Haynes wrote that Prince Bil Morrison “solicits various sums of money and articles of clothing to be sent him, in return for which he promises and pretends that he will send the donors items of Nigerian ivory, diamonds, and jewels.” This time, the perpetrator was “a fourteen year old Nigerian youth, who in no sense is entitled to the royal title of ‘Prince,’ but who used that title, according to his admission to Nigerian police officials, ‘just for fun’s sake’.”
Hayes further explained that Prince Bil Morrison was really “one of a number of young Nigerian school boys” and that the Nigerian police “have stated officially that this practice has become so widespread that in their opinion, only by notices in the American press will the public be made aware of the fact” that this was occurring. As happened in the case with Prince Richard, Haynes recommended that the Postmaster General issue a fraud order against Prince Bil Morrison.
Unfortunately, neither case file includes anything that indicates what may have become of either “prince”, but it is amazing that given the growth of Internet fraud in recent years, it looks like history does repeat itself.