A Nigerian man named Bamidele Muraina was sentenced to 70 months in prison in the United States for a $2.6 million fraud. A U.S. court also ordered Bamidele, better known as Dele Ewe, to pay $561,125.62 in restitution.
Gabriel Kalembo, 33, of Zambia, his co-conspirator, was sentenced to 50 months in prison and ordered to pay $298,008.71 in restitution.
The US Justice Department said in a statement, “Bamidele Muraina, a Nigerian national who hacked into tax preparation firms and filed fraudulent unemployment benefit claims and tax returns using stolen personally identifiable information, and Gabriel Kalembo, a previously convicted fraudster who laundered the fraudulent assets, have been sentenced to federal prison.”
“These defendants stole funds from programs meant to assist American workers and families struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Acting US Attorney Kurt R. Erskine.
“Our law enforcement partners’ collaborative efforts were critical in disrupting a sophisticated network of criminals and bringing their leaders to justice.”
Bamidele Muraina participated in a scheme to defraud Washington State’s Employment Security Department (“ESD-WA”) by filing dozens of fraudulent unemployment insurance (UI) claims in the names of identity theft victims who were not eligible for such benefits.
Gabriel Kalembo and his associates laundered the illegally obtained UI benefits from ESD-WA as part of the same conspiracy by purchasing and later negotiating hundreds of money orders.
According to Acting US Attorney Erskine, Bamidele Muraina was a Nigerian national who lived in the Atlanta area at the time of his crimes.
Muraina hacked into multiple tax preparation and accounting firms in several states, including a Brunswick, Georgia-based accounting firm, between at least January 29, 2018, and approximately April 2020.
Muraina gained access to the firms’ accounts through a national tax preparation program, stole personally identifiable information from their clients, and filed over 275 fraudulent individual income tax returns in their names through the Internet.
From 2018 to 2020, Muraina’s fraudulent tax returns using stolen identities sought refunds from the IRS totalling more than $2.6 million.
Muraina submitted false claims for unemployment insurance benefits in Washington between May 9, 2020, and May 16, 2020, using stolen personally identifiable information from Washington residents.
Muraina’s false claims took advantage of a federal COVID-19 pandemic relief program established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits and provided an extra $600 per week.
The State of Washington paid out more than $280,000 in unemployment benefits based on Muraina’s fraudulent claims submitted in the names of approximately fifty Washington residents over a one-week period.
Muraina directed that fraudulent funds from his unemployment benefits scheme and tax fraud scheme be deposited into bank accounts set up by co-conspirators, including Gabriel Kalembo, who was convicted in 2017 in the Northern District of Georgia of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud.
Kalembo recruited Zambian nationals to enter the United States on tourist visas in order to form sham corporations in Georgia and open business bank accounts in their names.
Kalembo laundered the fraudulent funds into those accounts by cashing money orders purchased with debit cards linked to the accounts.
Bamidele Muraina, 35, of Oyo, Nigeria, was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison followed by three years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge William M. Ray II, who also ordered Muraina to pay $561,125.62 in restitution.
Gabriel Kalembo, 33, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced to four years and two months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $298,008.71 in restitution by Judge Ray.
The US 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 all looked into the case.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Nathan P. Kitchens, Chief of the Public Integrity and Special Matters Section, Sarah E. Klapman, and Lauren T. Macon.