A document obtained by SaharaReporters has revealed how Nigeria’s Deputy Senate President, Augustine Ovie Omo-Agege, was suspended from practicing law in California, United States, over a case of forgery and fraud.
The document revealed that Omo-Agege committed the offence in 1995, was found guilty and suspended from practicing for two years.
He was also placed on probation and mandated to take a multistate professional responsibility examination before being admitted back to the US bar, according to the court document seen.
After being arrested, a four-count amended charge was filed against Omo-Agege in the Los Angeles County Superior Court with Case number BA111331.
The charge sheet partly reads, “Count 1 of said amended information alleged that on or about March 7, 1992, in the County of Los Angeles, respondent committed the crime of forgery of check in violation of Penal Code section 470, a felony.
“The allegations continue that on or about the date referred to above, respondent signed the name of Elpert Defrietas to a check in the amount of $890 and attempted to pass said check as true and genuine knowing that said check was forged with the intent to defraud the Bank of America, Ahined Mahome and Elpert Defrietas.
“Count 2 of said amended information alleged that on or about March 7, 1993, in the County of Los Angeles, respondent committed the crime of perjury – application for driver’s license in violation of Penal Code section 118, a felony.
“The allegations continue that on or about said date, respondent certified that he had never applied for a California driver license or identification card, when in fact he had applied for license and been issued under the name Augustine Omoagege.”
The court concluded that Omo-Agege was guilty of the charges and convicted him for forgery on November 30, 1995.
On April 12, 1998, the Review Department of the State Bar Court issued an order suspending Omo-Agege from practicing law in California for two years effective May 30, 1996.
After his conviction, the Delta State-born lawyer returned to Nigeria where he soon delved into politics.
To have a smooth sail, he removed Augustine from his name and adopted his middle name, Ovie, perhaps in order to avoid any sort of linkage to his criminal past in California.
Having served as a commissioner under the administration of former Delta State governor, James Ibori, who was jailed in the United Kingdom for stealing huge sums belonging to the state, Omo-Agege rose politically, emerging Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate on June 11, 2019 after defeating Ike Ekweremadu, who held the position at the time.
But before then on April 18, 2018, he was arrested by the police in Abuja for leading armed thugs to snatch and seize the mace of the Senate.
He was soon released on bail, and nothing much had been heard of the case in recent times.
Reacting to the matter on Monday, Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to Omo-Agege, Yomi Odunuga, said that his principal had cleared his name from the alleged offences in the United States and can no longer be held for it.
According to him, political enemies of the Deputy Senate President were behind the resurfacing of the matter now.
He said, “There is an ongoing politically motivated propaganda designed solely to defame the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, by publicly harming and destroying his good reputation.
“The DSP has nothing to hide. Yes, he faced a criminal trial in 1996 in California, USA, but ultimately prevailed as he was cleared.
“There is no question about it at all that he came out whole and unscathed, but his wicked and desperate political enemies want the world to believe otherwise.
“Following issues raised in the criminal trial for which the DSP was ultimately acquitted by the Superior Court of California, he was also made to face a professional ethics violations investigation (No. 94-C-14401) by the California Bar, leading to an unjust brief suspension from the Bar.
“By Nigerian law, INEC only requires a candidate for an elective office to disclose convictions (if any) that happened 10 years before his/her nomination.
“So, assuming the DSP’s traducers were even correct about the alleged 1996 conviction (which is not the case at all), where is the perjury, given that the events alleged occurred more than 24 years ago?”
But despite Odunuga’s defense, the document seen by SaharaReporters indeed revealed that Omo-Agege left the US without all his reputation intact.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that a Nigerian lawmaker would be involved in a criminal case abroad especially in the United States – the latest adds to a long list, in fact.
Recall that Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, was found guilty by the US Supreme Court of Georgia in February 2007 of stealing $25,000 from his client and suspended from law practice for 36 months.
Femi Gbaja, as he was known in the case file, accepted payment of $25,000 as a personal injury claims and deposited those funds in his attorney trust account in January 2003.
He failed to disburse the funds to his client; instead withdrawing it, closing his practice and returning to Nigeria where he ran for elections to represent Surulere I Federal Constituency in the House of Representative under the Alliance for Democracy in 2003.
Upon arrival in Nigeria, curiously he adopted a longer version of his surname – Gbajabiamila – ostensibly to peel off his suspicious past.
The Speaker has refused to talk about the matter whenever confronted by Nigerian journalists.