A federal appeals court has rejected the appeal of a man from Congo who was convicted of visa and bank fraud and other charges while living in South Portland.

Mukonhole Huge Kifwa was convicted in federal court in Portland in January 2016 on the fraud charges, along with making a false statement to a government agency and possession of firearms by a non-immigrant alien.

Kifwa was sentenced to three years and 10 months in jail on the charges. His appeal is being heard in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

Kifwa’s appeal argued that some evidence, consisting of translated transcripts of calls he made from jail, was only given to his lawyer on the morning the trial started.

The appeals court said Kifwa most likely knew that calls he made from jail were being recorded, but he apparently believed he would not be understood by authorities because he spoke Lingala during the calls. Lingala is a Bantu language used primarily in parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Kifwa is from, although he used a French translator at his trial.

“That reliance (on using the relatively rare language) was misplaced,” the court ruled. The three-judge appeals panel said Lingala translators are “hen’s-teeth rare,” but prosecutors found one at the last minute before the trial started to translate four of the more than 1,200 calls Kifwa made from jail between his arrest in July 2015 and his trial in early 2016.


The appeals court said prosecutors turned over the transcripts of the calls almost as soon as they received them and the trial court offered Kifwa and his lawyer a continuance so they could study the transcripts and determine how to respond to them. Prosecutors said they would not oppose a delay, but Kifwa’s lawyer declined it and said his client insisted on proceeding.

The appeals court also said that jurors already had heard testimony on discrepancies in Kifwa’s visa paperwork, false statements to immigration officials and illegitimate financial dealings prior to the testimony based on the phone call transcripts.

The four translated transcripts are of Kifwa talking with an associate, who became a cooperating witness, about obtaining fraudulent documents to counter the charges of visa fraud. They “were but a cherry on the sundae,” the appeals court ruling said.

“It takes a certain degree of effrontery for an accused person held in pretrial detention to continue to conduct his criminal enterprise over a prison telephone, knowing that prisoner calls are customarily recorded,” Judge Bruce M. Selya wrote for the appeals court.

When Kifwa came to the U.S. in February 2014, he had already been deported back to Congo the year before from Canada, where he had been accused of fraud and forgery. While living in South Portland, federal authorities said, he opened three bank accounts, overdrawing two by nearly $10,000 and using the third to deposit counterfeit checks of more than $60,000.

He was also accused of entering the U.S. on a fraudulent non-immigrant visa, posing as an employee of the Congolese government and then applying for a Texas identification card under a false name.

David Shaughnessy, a Massachusetts lawyer who represented Kifwa in the appeal, declined comment. A call seeking comment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland on Wednesday morning was not immediately returned.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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