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Two Nigerians charged for COVID-19 unemployment scam in US

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Two Nigerians have been charged with employment scams among other crimes in the United States.

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Chukwuemeka Onyegbula, an information technology worker was indicted on federal wire fraud and identity theft charges after authorities said he and his co-conspirators filed false claims for pandemic-related unemployment benefits in 17 states.

Onyegbula, using the name “Phillip Carter,” was linked to at least 253 fraudulent filings for unemployment benefits, according to an indictment unsealed last Thursday in Seattle, AP reported .

He is the second Nigerian to be indicted for such fraud in US District Court for western Washington. Abidemi Rufai, a suspended aide to the Ogun State governor, was arrested on May 14 for similar crimes.

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AP reported that Rufai filed “$350,000 in fraudulent claims in Washington and other states, with $288,000 making it into a bank account he controlled. He also sought to bilk the Internal Revenue Service of nearly $1.6 million, according to federal prosecutors.”

Onyegbula has been detained in Nigeria, but prospects for his extradition to the U.S. were unclear.

According to the Seattle U.S. Attorney’s Office, Onyegbula works for Pan Ocean Oil Corporation Nigeria Limited.

Washington, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Nevada, Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin paid out a total of nearly $290,000 on claims related to the case.

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Additionally, the federal Small Business Administration paid out $54,000 in COVID-19 economic disaster claims filed by Onyegbula and his co-conspirators, prosecutors said.

Court documents, however, did not list an attorney who might comment on his behalf.

Another Nigerian, Damilola Adepoju, of Brooklyn, New York was charged in a criminal complaint with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft.

Adepoju made an initial appearance in federal court in Brooklyn in late May.

According to the charging documents, the 29-year-old and his co-conspirators submitted fraudulent pandemic-related unemployment claims and applied for disaster-assistance loans to the Small Business Administration using stolen personally identifiable information.

In some instances, Adepoju and his co-conspirators allegedly targeted elderly victims through romance scams, taking their personal information and using them to launder the proceeds of the fraudulent schemes.

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Adepoju also allegedly used a shoe retail business he operated to launder funds, funneling the money to other financial accounts inside and outside the United States. The investigation has identified more than $600,000 in actual or attempted losses to date.

“The charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud provide for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000,” the US Department of Justice said in a statement.

“The charge of money laundering provides for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The charge of aggravated identity theft provides for a mandatory sentence of two years in prison to be served consecutively to any other sentence imposed, one year of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.”

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