A 35-year-old Nigerian Bamidele Muraina, has been sentenced to 70 months in prison over $2.6m fraud in the U.S.
Bamidele, also known as Dele Ewe from Oyo State, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge William M. Ray II to five years and 10 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $561,125 in restitution.
According to Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine, Muraina along with his Zambian conspirator Gabriel Kalembo hacked into tax preparation firms and filed fraudulent unemployment benefit claims and tax returns using stolen personally identifiable information.
Kalembo, 33, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced to four years and two months in prison to be followed by two years of supervised release and ordered to pay $298,008 in restitution.
“These defendants stole funds from programs meant to assist American workers and families seeking to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In total, Muraina’s fraudulent tax returns using stolen identities sought refunds from the IRS exceeding $2.6 million from 2018 through 2020,” Erskine said.
The charge sheet revealed that between May 9, 2020 and May 16, 2020, Muraina, who resided in the metro Atlanta area, used stolen personally identifiable information from Washington residents to submit false claims for unemployment insurance benefits in Washington.
His false claims exploited a federal COVID-19 pandemic relief programme created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits and provided an additional unemployment benefit of $600 per week.
Based on Muraina’s fraudulent claims submitted in the names of approximately 50 Washington residents over a one-week span, the State of Washington issued more than $280,000 in unemployment benefits.
Muraina, thereafter, directed these fraudulent funds from his unemployment benefits scheme and tax fraud scheme to be deposited into bank accounts set up by co-conspirators, including Gabriel Kalembo, who was convicted in 2017 of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud in the Northern District of Georgia.
It was gathered that Kalembo recruited Zambian nationals to travel to the United States on tourist visas to incorporate sham corporations in Georgia and open business bank accounts in the names of those corporations.
After the fraudulent funds were deposited into those accounts, Kalembo laundered the funds by cashing money orders purchased with debit cards linked to the accounts.
“The conspirators not only stole from the government but also victimized individuals and private businesses in this case,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey.
Reacting to the sentence, the Inspector in Charge of the Atlanta Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service Tommy D. Coke said it should serve as a deterrent to anybody intending to exploit the COVID-relief programmes designated to assist those in need during the pandemic.
“Postal Inspectors will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate anyone that steals federal funds to enrich themselves and have them held accountable under the law, ” he added.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security-Homeland Security Investigations, and the United States Postal Inspection Service.