PORTLAND (AP) – A Westbrook man faces charges that he bilked investors out of $78,000 in order to gain millions in an African investment scheme.

Todd Denson, 46, is charged with wire fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 if he is convicted. He appeared in U.S. District Court in Portland on Monday.

Denson told investigators that he sent $60,000 of the money overseas and contacted other investors for more cash that he thought he needed to get hold of $9 million from Ghana, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark.

In order to attract investors, Denson fabricated stories about how he had made millions designing window-washing equipment or how he stood to inherit millions from his long-lost father.

In fact, Denson was soliciting money in an effort to cash in on an e-mail he had received saying he was entitled to $9 million if he agreed to forward a $1,000 transfer fee to Ghana, according to an affidavit.

Denson told a Secret Service agent that after he had sent $60,000 of his own money, he was instructed to send $36,000 more to complete the deal.

He then solicited money from seven people, including his ex-wife, for a total of $78,000. Denson’s lawyer, Joel Vincent, said he didn’t know anything about the case except the allegations made by prosecutors.

“It sounds to me that he was a victim, and he tried to get funds to realize his dream of collecting the money,” Vincent said. “But I have no personal knowledge.”

The Secret Service was called in after a man responded to a classified newspaper ad promising a $20,000 return on a $40,000 loan, payable in 48 hours. The man said Denson told him he need the money to release more than $9 million he kept at the “Intercontinental Bank” in England to avoid U.S. taxes.

The man said he wired most of the money to an address in England and gave Denson the rest in cash. He contacted the Secret Service after he wasn’t paid back.

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