Federal officials charge two Nigerian natives living in New York City used fake IDs to suck out money from the Massachusetts unemployment system and a federal disaster loan program - some of which they then tried to launder through transactions with an elderly man they met through Facebook, who had bought their story they were actually a young fitness instructor from Texas.
A federal complaint unsealed this week only names one of the two men, Damilola Adepoju, because the other man remains at large; federal complaints typically only name people after they have been detained. Adepoju was formally charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.
According to an affidavit by an FBI agent on the case, the two men hatched a plan last year to obtain Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments and an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan by using fraudulently obtained IDs to apply for payments. They took advantage of a quirk in Google Mail: Unlike other mail systems, GMail does not recognize periods or dots in user names, so they were able to use numerous variants of one particular GMail address to apply for multiple payment accounts with just one inbox by switching around where they'd put a dot in the user name for the unemployment payments.
They picked Massachusetts because the state is "a rich state," according to the affidavit, which adds, however, that they also submitted bogus pandemic unemployment claims in 14 other states as well.
The investigation has identified over $600,000 in actual or attempted losses from fraudulent unemployment and EIDL payments.
The affidavit continues that the two have used the Google account since 2014 to pose as a female "fitness coach," using photos snagged from an actual female fitness coach in Texas with a similar name. In total, they've reached out to some 300 men online, the affidavit states.
In substance, these chats show that after building rapport, some individuals are solicited into providing personal information, bank account information, and ultimately financial assistance in the form of mailed cash, MoneyGram payments, and virtual gift cards.
The affidavit then details how the two allegedly tried to launder both money from unemployment and a $115,900 EIDL loan with the inadvertent help of an 86-year-old man in South Carolina they'd first met through the ruse in 2015.
In June 2020, according to bank records from Greenville Heritage Federal Credit Union, Victim l's account there received deposits of fraudulent unemployment funds. The bank's records also show that in July 2020, Victim 1 deposited a $117,532.38 check into his account. Victim 1 told me that both the check and unemployment funds came from "Vicky," who told Victim 1 that the money had something to do with her fitness business. At "Vicky's" direction, Victim 1 took cash out of his account, and on or about August 17, 2020., sent it by Fed.Ex to "Samuel . ," 542 East 79th St., Apt. 2N, New York, New York. "Vicky" led Victim 1 to believe that - was Vicky's roommate.
At the time, Damilola lived at that same address, but in the apartment directly above "Samuel."
In August, 2020, the South Carolina man sent "Vicky" an urgent message - that his bank had identified at least one of the transactions as fraudulent and that the government wanted to be repaid the money, which he didn't have, or the feds could take his house.
According to the affidavit, the conspirator who is still at large then texted Damilola:
I wanna go get high and wasted.
But at least we got something.
The two are the latest in a string of people charged in federal court in Boston with taking advantage of federal Covid-19 programs, including a Beverly pizza-place owner charged with using payments for non-existing workers to become an alpaca farmer, a man also charged with getting a loan to support workers he didn't have and a woman charged with using a flaw in the RMV online system to apply for federal loans.
Complete affidavit (4.8M PDF).