Nigerian National Charged in Washington State for Fraud over COVID-19 Economic Aid Programs | USAO-WDWA
Seattle – A Nigerian citizen has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and several counts of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, lawyer said Acting American Tessa M. Gorman. Chukwuemeka Onyegbula, aka Phillip Carter, is currently detained in Nigeria.
According to the indictment and an unsealed criminal complaint filed on June 6, 2021, law enforcement linked an email account belonging to Onyegbula but using the name “Phillip Carter” to at least 253 fraudulent statements by unemployment insurance in Washington, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Nevada, Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin. Almost $ 290,000 was paid in unemployment claims. Additionally, the indictment alleges that Onyegbula and his co-conspirators accessed the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) page on the Small Business Administration website and submitted EIDL requests. using stolen PII from residents of Washington and other states. Almost $ 54,000 has been disbursed in fraudulent disaster loans.
Onyegbula is said to have used variants of a single e-mail address in order to escape automatic detection by fraud systems. Using this practice, Onyegbula made it appear that each complaint was connected to a different email account. The email account used for the fraud was linked to Onyegbula by various electronic evidence such as phone numbers and IP addresses. The email account contained information such as a visa application receipt, banking information and homework from Onyegbula’s son. Cyber evidence also includes dozens of tax return information for U.S. citizens.
Evidence gathered indicates that Onyegbula is employed as a computer engineer by Pan Ocean Oil Corporation Nigeria Limited.
Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud are punishable by up to thirty years in prison where the offense involves benefits paid in the context of a disaster or emergency. declared by the president, as the COVID-19 pandemic. Aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two years consecutive to any sentence imposed on the other charges.
The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent until proven beyond a reasonable doubt by a court.
This matter is currently under investigation by the FBI, with assistance from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Labor (DOL-OIG). The Office of International Affairs of the Criminal Division of the Ministry of Justice provided substantial assistance. The Washington Department of Job Security is cooperating with the investigation.
This case is being pursued by Deputy U.S. Attorneys Cindy Chang and Seth Wilkinson.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General created the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Working Group to mobilize the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with government agencies to strengthen efforts to combat and prevent the pandemic fraud. The Working Group strengthens efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable national and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud, among other methods, by scaling up and integrating mechanisms coordination, identifying resources and techniques for uncovering fraudulent actors and their programs, and sharing and leveraging information and knowledge gained from previous enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF online complaint form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.