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Public official arrested after falling for 419 scam

County treasurer stole public funds to pay for advanced fee fraud, court heard.

The treasurer of Alcona County in the US state of Michigan has been suspended from his job and charged with nine counts of stealing public funds after falling for a 419 email scam.

According to reports in the Detroit Free Press, 56-year-old Thomas Katona, of Harrisville, Michigan was charged with the alleged theft following an investigation that began last December.

County officials learned of the theft when Katona was alleged to have directed eight unauthorised wire transfers totalling $186,500 (94,435) to fraudsters running the advance fee fraud scheme. He was arraigned at the 81st District Court on 17th January on eight counts of embezzlement by a public official and one count of forgery. Katona faces 14 years in jail if convicted.

Investigators said that Katona had also wired $72,000 of his own money to the scammers as well. Six of the wire transfers were sent to overseas accounts, according to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox. One transfer was returned over a bank routing code problem and an eighth went to a bank in New York.

A Nigerian advance fee fraud scheme occurs when a victim receives an email from someone normally claiming to be the son of a late dictator wanting to transfer funds out of the country quickly and urges the victim to send money in order to release those funds.

A forensic examination of Alcona County records showed a shortfall of $1,236,700 ($626,900) in December, a quarter of the county's entire yearly budget, according to Cox.

Katona will be back in court for a preliminary hearing at the end of the month.

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