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'I'm seeking forgiveness,' man tells judge in St. John's courtroom

Joseph Kalombo Ndonki, 46, leaves the courtroom with sheriffs following his sentencing hearing in St. John's Wednesday morning. He is set to be sentenced next month for identity theft crimes.
Joseph Kalombo Ndonki, 46, leaves the courtroom with sheriffs following his sentencing hearing in St. John's Wednesday morning. He is set to be sentenced next month for identity theft crimes. - Tara Bradbury

Joseph Kalombo Ndonki was one of four men charged after the RCMP seized fake driver’s licences, SIN cards, citizenship cards and VISA debit cards last February

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Joseph Kalombo Ndonki cried as he stood in the witness box and addressed a provincial court judge directly at his sentencing hearing in St. John's Wednesday.

One of four men arrested last February and charged with crimes of identity theft, Ndonki admitted he was guilty and deserved to be punished, and told Judge James Walsh he was begging him for a second chance.

"If I could show you my heart, you could see how shameful and sorry I am," Ndonki said through tears. "I let down everybody — my wife, my kids, my parents. I let down this country, (which) gave me this opportunity. 

"The only thing I can say to you is I'm not a criminal and I'm seeking forgiveness and for a second chance. If you can give me a second chance, maybe I can show you that I'm not a criminal that can maybe fake (this), and that I will never, ever, ever put myself in a position like this (again)."

Ndonki, 46, was arrested on Feb. 16, after he attempted to buy a cellphone from the Bell Mobility store in the Village Shopping Centre using fake ID. Bell staff contacted security, who called the police. Ndonki was charged with attempting to commit fraud and was released on a recognizance two days later on a number of conditions.

"If I could show you my heart, you could see how shameful and sorry I am." — Joseph Kalombo Ndonki

On Feb. 17, staff of Purolator Courier in St. John's contacted the RCMP's serious and organized crime unit about what they believed was a suspicious package that had been dropped off to be shipped overnight to a Montreal address. That address was determined to be a Fedex depot. The man who had dropped off the package had also visited the Purolator location earlier in the day to collect a package from Montreal, staff said.

RCMP officers seized the suspicious package and obtained a warrant to search it and any other packages containing the same shipper and receiver's names. Inside, they found 14 pre-paid VISA cards of $250 each, which had been purchased around St. John's and Lower Sackville, N.S.

Purolator staff called police again the following day to say they had received another package for the man. Inside, RCMP investigators found two Ontario driver's licences and five social insurance cards, all bearing the same photo of a different man, but with varying names and dates of birth. Some of the licences and SIN cards matched.

Police removed the fake cards from the package and returned it to Purolator, then set up a stakeout around the depot. The man arrived in a rental car with three others, who waited in the vehicle as he went into the depot to collect the package, then came back out. He went back inside seconds later, yelling at Purolator staff that his package was empty. That's when police arrested him and charged him with identity theft and possession of stolen property.

Ddonki was one of the three men waiting in the car, who were all arrested and similarly charged. He was discovered to be the man pictured on the fake cards.

Police received a phone call a couple of days later from a person saying he had been renting short-term accommodations to the men in St. John's. They were supposed to have checked out, he said, but when he entered the residence, he found their luggage and other items still inside, along with a number of ID and credit cards.

After obtaining another warrant, police searched the apartment and found a significant number of fake driver's licences, social insurance cards, Canadian citizenship cards and VISA debit cards, many of them with Ndonki's photo on them, though the names and personal information varied. There were also multiple cellphones, later revealed to have been obtained with the fake ID cards, as well as a WestJet boarding pass for a flight from Montreal to St. John's in the name of one of the people on the cards.

The names and personal information on the cards belonged to real people, the court heard Wednesday. None of them appeared to be from this province.

Ndonki said he is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and has lived in Montreal since coming to Canada in 2004. His ex-wife and one of his children live in Montreal, he said, while his current wife and three other children live in South Africa. He said he ran into financial trouble early in the year and was unable to provide for his family. His children in South Africa were not able to go to school because they couldn't pay the fees, and they and their mother had been evicted from their apartment, he said.

Ndonki said he had been looking online for a loan of $2,000 or $3,000 when he was contacted by "those people," who told him they could help him if he would take a photo of himself and give it to them. He offered no explanation as to what had brought him to Newfoundland. 

"Basically they explained to me that they just need to open some bank accounts and apply for funds," Ndonki testified. 

"With fake IDs?" asked his lawyer, Derek Hogan.

Ndonki said yes. 

The other three men have upcoming court dates.

Prosecutor Richard Deveau said Ndonki had previously worked in a bank in Montreal and would have known what he was doing was illegal. Ndonki's involvement had continued for a period of time, had included travel to St. John's and may have continued had he not been arrested, Deveau argued.

Deveau pointed to the fact there are 15 victims — not including the banks and phone companies involved — and the impact of the identity thefts on their credit rating, ability to travel and other issues is not yet known.

"It's clear his motive was to protect his family, but he seemed to be part of a bigger conspiracy," Deveau said. "The reason it ended was because the scheme was intercepted."

As part of a deal with the Crown, Ndonki pleaded guilty to charges of unlawfully possessing another person's identity documents and possessing another person's identity with the intention to commit an indictable offence, and the rest of his charges were withdrawn.

Deveau suggested a jail sentence of between 18 and 24 months, while Hogan suggested a sentence of time served, noting Ndonki is a first-time offender and had been trying to help his family out of financial strife when he committed the crimes.

"Yes, it was a sophisticated scheme, but he was low in the hierarchy of the scheme, according to his testimony," Hogan said.

Walsh will deliver his decision Aug. 14.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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