Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

Togo immigrant accused of fleecing IRS ruled mentally incompetent

TAMPA — Koffi Gbikpi, born in the African nation of Togo, is not a U.S. citizen but he lives here and has taken advantage of all that America has to offer.

Banking! In Boston, he opened 30 accounts, police say, and kited checks in a priest's collar. Religious freedom! In Tampa, he became a bishop by mail order. Tourism! There he is on Facebook, sightseeing at the White House and Capitol.

On whose dime? Maybe yours.

Federal court records allege that Gbikpi filed 17 false tax refund claims totaling $704,676, all but two under other people's identities, and that he obtained "significant refunds."

But those charges are a year old, and no trial is scheduled.

The holdup?

Gbikpi, 47, has been found mentally incompetent.

He is "unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense," U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo wrote earlier this year, after reviewing a report from a court-appointed psychiatrist.

The contents of that report are not public record.

Gbikpi's court-appointed attorney, James J. Armington, declined to discuss the case.

In a motion, he wrote that Gbikpi "has described hallucinations and suicidal ideations and has been unable to focus and discuss the legal issues involved in his case."

Gbikpi is now detained and undergoing treatment at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C., according to court records and the Bureau of Prisons.

His next hearing is three months away.

He's charged with 17 counts of filing false claims, three counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.

"He always thinks big. I'll give him credit," said Boston police Detective Steven Blair, who unraveled the alleged Gbikpi check-kiting scheme in December 2010.

Amy Jo Freedman, who represented Gbikpi in Boston, recalls him as "an intelligent man."

Prosecutors said Gbikpi opened accounts under names of religious institutions and deposited starter checks in a new bank account, withdrawing funds before the checks bounced.

Three of them totaled $18,000.

He was arrested after returning to a targeted bank.

He served 75 days in a Boston jail for forgery and uttering a false instrument, records show.

"He filed a complaint with the Police Department saying I insulted him by calling him a fake priest," Blair said.

Blair said he could never get straight answers out of Gbikpi, and that he couldn't seem to produce a passport.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials know the name and are waiting in the wings for the Tampa federal court case to conclude.

Carissa Cutrell, a public affairs officer for ICE, said the agency issued a detainer when U.S. marshals booked Gbikpi into the Pinellas County jail last summer on the tax charges.

Because of privacy issues, she can't discuss Gbikpi's current immigration status. But she did state ICE's future plans.

"Mr. Gbikpi, a native and citizen of Togo, will enter removal proceedings before an immigration court at the conclusion of his criminal proceedings," she said.

Togo is a small country on the southern coast of West Africa plagued by political upheaval and human rights violations.

Gbikpi described himself as a Togo refugee during a 2008 divorce case in Tampa.

He came to the United States with his wife, Akossiwa, and two young children, said stepdaughter Annie Akakpo, who also immigrated. She estimates that it was about 1996. The family lived briefly in Arizona before settling in Tampa, where they opened a hair weaving business.

The wife and children attained citizenship, Akakpo said. She was unsure about Gbikpi.

They saw less and less of him, by design. Throughout 2008, every week or two, his now ex-wife renewed a temporary injunction barring him from getting within 500 feet of her. She alleged that he had hit her and threatened to kill her.

At least 31 times, deputies tried to serve him with a notice to appear.

"Thinks he's going to be arrested," one deputy noted.

Though Gbikpi did not officially participate in the divorce and domestic violence cases, his written complaints — about his wife, her attorney and a county judge — landed in court files.

At one point, Gbikpi tried to shake down Hillsborough County Judge Raul "Sonny" Palomino Jr. for $100,000 — to compensate Gbikpi for damage to his "health" and "dignity."

After the divorce became final in December 2008, Gbikpi wrote that it was illegal without their parents' approval.

He said he could reject any divorce process "in conflict with my reality."

And he noted that in the United States, people could get married in the morning and separated in the evening.

After a while, he went away.

He turned up in Boston and Washington, D.C., leaving occasional spiritual guidance on Facebook, where he keeps at least six pages under variations of his name.

A federal agent found him in Washington, D.C., in early July and arrested him on the tax case warrant from Florida, the one that alleged $704,676 in claims filed under an array of names.

The IRS has already filed a $43,000 tax lien against him for a claim in his own name.

"We've never seen him with that kind of money," Gbikpi's stepdaughter said of $704,676.

He didn't own a bike, let alone a car, she said.

"He robbed everyone in the family — the kids, even."

Prosecutors have not yet said how much the IRS paid out.

As the agency was building its federal case against Gbikpi, he filed a handwritten petition in U.S. District Court, in essence asking a judge to keep the agency off his back.

The judge called it "rambling" and "partly incoherent."

This much was coherent.

Gbikpi had a complaint.

The IRS, he said, had violated his rights as a taxpayer.

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

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