Georgia Resident Pleads Guilty to COVID-19 Unemployment Fraud Targeting Several States
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – An Austell, Georgia resident pleaded guilty today to using stolen identities to fraudulently collect more than $4 million in unemployment benefits from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (DES) and attempting to defraud at least five other states, announced U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona and United States Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Patrick Davis.
Olushola Adewole Afolabi, 39, of Austell, Georgia pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud before U.S. District Court Judge Abdul K. Kallon. Afolabi’s co-defendant, Olugbeminiyi Aderibigbe, 38, of Powder Springs, Georgia, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in May.
“Defrauding government programs designed to assist struggling Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic is shameful,” said U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona. “The United States Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners will aggressively target individuals who used a national pandemic as an opportunity to line their own pockets.”
“The defendants stole millions intended for those suffering during the pandemic and sent the proceeds overseas. Thanks to the hard work of the Northern District of Alabama, these criminals have been brought to Justice,” Office of Deputy Attorney General, Director of COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Kevin Chambers said. “This case and others to come demonstrate the Department’s commitment to aggressively pursue and disrupt transnational actors who exploited pandemic relief programs.”
According to court documents, Afolabi and co-conspirators orchestrated a scheme from September 2020 through July 2021 to defraud the Illinois DES into paying out more than $4 million in unemployment insurance benefits. As part of the scheme, the conspirators filed fraudulent claims using stolen identities of elderly Illinois residents. The conspirators deposited the proceeds of the fraudulent claims into bank accounts opened specifically to perpetrate the fraud. Afolabi and co-conspirators then used the associated debit cards to withdraw cash and purchase money orders from retail stores across the Northern District of Alabama and elsewhere. The conspiracy further laundered the unemployment insurance funds by using the money orders to purchase salvaged automobiles in the United States and ship them to Nigeria.
The maximum penalty for conspiracy to commit wire fraud is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
U.S. Secret Service investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan “Jack” Harrington and Edward J. Canter are prosecuting the case
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.