By Gladys Kalibbala
It is common for donors to be cheated in Uganda by those pretending to help needy children. What is uncommon is for the donors to have the patience of hunting down the culprits and seeing through Uganda’s long court process.
But Dennis Bussey was determined to see justice done. The 67-year-old Richmond native and retired commander in the navy civil engineer corps was conned of more than $100,000 meant to help a disadvantaged family.
Ronald Asiimwe is the conman who consistently abused Bussey’s kindness. Asiimwe bilked money meant to help Bussey’s adopted family of four Uganda girls.
Asiimwe, a born-again Christian, even abandoned his job as a laboratory technician at Mulago Hospital and started leading a luxurious life. He started an organisation, The Key Rock for Development Limited, and cruised around in luxurious vehicles.
Bussey first met the girls in 2005 when he came to track Gorillas at Bwindi National Park.
Bussey animatedly says: “My story, of how Asiimwe made me look like a big fool, has had many moving parts. It will take a Gone With The Wind type of novel to adequately describe it,” he commented.
According to documents produced in court, Asiimwe also received a large amount of money from other donors.
Bussey meets Ronald Asiimwe(R) for the first time at Wandegeya Police recently. He swindled more than sh250m shillings meant to help four poor girls. Photo by Gladys Kalibbala
At Law Development Centre’s court in Makerere, Asiimwe was found guilty on July 29, 2013 and sentenced him to 36 months in prison.
This is in addition to the eight months he has spent on remand before the sentence.
Asiimwe was ordered to refund $146,000 he swindled.
Bussey’s lawyer, Nathan Twinomugisha, vowed to file a civil suit to enforce the judgement and get back the money.
The principle grade one magistrate, Nansambu, said Asiimwe abused Bussey’s trust with the girls, denying them a bright future they would have achieved through education.
Assimwe was blamed for deceiving court by providing fake information instead of apologising to Bussey. During his defence he paraded his wife’s sisters claiming he spent Bussey’s money on their education.
Asiimwe and Bussey communicated through e-mail while Asiimwe was in prison. One time Bussey asked him whether he felt remorseful for what he did to the girls.
He challenged Asiimwe’s brand of Christianity and how his actions had done much to damage society.
But Asiimwe continued to deny the accusations, saying Bussey was misled. “You are a parent and a grandparent. Why do you deny my children to be with their father, please? Remember you paid for my fees and the Lord Jesus Christ whom I believe in will set me free soon. That is why I am still alive,” Asiimwe concluded in his e-mail.
Recap of the fraud
When Bussey first came to Uganda in 2005, he met a needy 14-year-old girl, Isabellah Mutesi, from Kyeshero village, Kanungu district.
A few months later Mutesi sent him a picture of a Gorilla she had drawn and also asked him to assist her two sisters Dinnah Usanase and Esperance Niyisingyizwa which he did.
He also included Susan Kyasiimire whom he met working at Bwindi. He would send their fees through an orphanage whose officials had introduced her to him.
When the school complained that the officials at the orphanage were paying fees late, he stopped sending it.
“I only resumed sending money after the school management identified for me Ronald Asiimwe a born-again orphan who was committed to supporting fellow orphans and therefore could be trusted,” he says.
Bussey felt that Asiimwe was a ‘Ugandan Hero’ from the bright ideas he expressed through various e-mails in which he explained how he would turn he lives of these young girls around.
Bussey trusted him enough to keep sending money whenever he asked. Asiimwe claimed he was building a house whose rent would cater for the girls’ education. He even claimed he needed money to pay the medical bills of Mutesi whom, he said, had been shot during a riot in Kampala.
His e-mails would always be followed by ones from the girls.
Mutesi explains that she benefitted from her sponsor’s funds for only two school terms before Asiimwe told her Bussey had died in a California wildfire in December, 2006.
The girls dropped out of school and worked as housemaids.
He made Mutesi sign documents which indicated that her new sponsor was Keith Horrein. “He took me to open an account in my names in a bank in Kampala but I never got to know what happened next,” Mutesi says.
Bussey then got an e-mail informing him Asiimwe was in a terrible accident. He sustained a spinal cord injury which required urgent surgery, estimated at $6,000 which he sent urgently. The e-mail was from Polito who claimed to be Asiimwe’s brother.
Later another email came saying his ‘Ugandan Hero’ had died and the brother was stuck with burial arrangements. Bussey sent $6,500 and a moving message.
“On March 19, 2011 I sent an obituary telling mourners he was the only truly Ugandan hero I had ever known! Tears were shed back home with my family, although I had never met Asiimwe.
But life had to continue, and Polito took over ‘assisting’ the girls. But this did not last long. Polito soon stopped communicating. Bussey was left wondering what could have happened to his Ugandan family.
Bussey and the girls he sponsors. There were tears of joy at the reunion. Photo by Gladys Kalibbala
Last year, Bussey attended a meeting at Willow Oaks Country Club in Virginia where the guest speaker was Rogers Kasirye, the executive director of Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL). Kasirye was attending a one-year academic programme at Virginia Commonwealth University and they became friends.
Kasirye invited Dennis to Kampala. Coincidentally, two weeks to the visit, Bussey got a message on Facebook from Mutesi.
“She was inquiring whether I was still alive,” Bussey says. That is when I got to know that Asiimwe was alive and none of the girls ever got my money,” Bussey says.
There were tears of joy during a reunion with the girls in Kampala
Later, Kasirye introduced him to a Ugandan lawyer who took him to Police to open up a case against Asiimwe.
Bussey told the Police he was not a poor American seeking refund, but wanted justice to prevail and also to stop Asiimwe from stealing from many other donors.
When they met in person, Asiimwe looked shaken. The girls later enrolled at UYDEL for courses to build their skills.
Dennis has taken on another two disadvantaged children he met at UYDEL.
He pledged the money that will be recovered from Asiimwe to benefit more needy children in Uganda. “However, none of this would have ever happened if Mutesi had not found me on Facebook,” Bussey says.
Bussey with the girls he sponsors at the source of the Nile.