Nigerian Citizen Sentenced to Federal Prison for His Role in Nationwide Identity Theft and IRS Tax Fraud Scheme
False federal tax returns filed using the personal identifying information of thousands of Oregon and Washington taxpayers
MEDFORD, Ore. – On Wednesday, November 8, 2017, United States District Court Judge Ann Aiken sentenced Michael Oluwasegun Kazeem, 24, a Nigerian citizen and recent resident of Georgia, to 7 years in federal prison for his role in committing conspiracy to commit mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and mail fraud. The sentence included the two-year mandatory minimum for possessing or using a victim’s identity to commit fraud. The Judge also ordered him to pay $4,298,860 in restitution. Kazeem will be subject to deportation upon completion of his prison sentence for committing these aggravated felonies.
According to court documents, in May 2013, a Medford victim notified the IRS that false federal and Oregon state tax returns were filed electronically using her and her husband’s names. The returns included personally identifiable information (PII) including their social security numbers and dates of birth. The federal refund was deposited into an account via a prepaid debit card in a suburb of Chicago while the state refund was directed to a bank account in Texas.
An IRS investigation led to search warrants of residences in Illinois, Maryland and Georgia and numerous email and instant messenger accounts used by the defendant and other co-conspirators to further their fraudulent scheme. At a Chicago residence, agents seized approximately 150 prepaid debit cards and $50,000 in money orders. Agents learned that the Chicago co-conspirator was connected to an identity-theft scheme being run out of Lagos, Nigeria since at least 2011. In Maryland and Georgia, the IRS seized more than 50 electronic devices, 40 money orders in amounts exceeding $29,000, $14,000 in cash and numerous Greendot prepaid debt cards containing over $12,000 in fraudulent tax refunds.
The IRS criminal investigation eventually determined that the overall scheme resulted in the co-conspirators possessing stolen personal identifying information (PII) of more than 259,000 victims. In carrying out their scheme, the co-conspirators used the stolen PII to acquire over 19,500 electronic filing PINs from the IRS in the taxpayers’ names to be used to bypass IRS authentication procedures. They also obtained and used pre-paid debit cards with the victims’ stolen identities to receive direct electronic tax refund deposits. They eventually filed over 10,000 fraudulent federal tax returns attempting to obtain over $91 million dollars in refunds with actual losses amounting to over $11 million dollars. Refunds were withdrawn from the debit cards and at least 2,000 wire transfers totaling over $2.1 million were sent to Nigeria.
In 2014, the co-conspirators also gained access to the IRS “Get Transcript” system where they obtained sensitive taxpayer information and used it to file additional fraudulent returns. They obtained over 1,600 personal taxpayer transcripts from the IRS. In 2015, because of these and other security breaches, the IRS discontinued the “Get Transcript” program nationwide.
Michael Kazeem joined the conspiracy in 2013 to help his brother, Emmanuel Kazeem, 34, of Bowie, Maryland and Nigeria with the fraudulent tax scheme. Agents identified Emmanuel Kazeem as leader and organizer of the group who received, organized and distributed stolen identities. Michael Kazeem used the stolen PII from his brother to obtain electronic filing PINs from the IRS in the taxpayers’ names and acquired numerous disposable email accounts used to file fraudulent tax returns and obtain taxpayer transcripts from the IRS. He also “washed” the stolen identities through credit bureaus to ensure they would skirt IRS authentication procedures and he secured employer names with EINs for use on fraudulent W-2s used by his brother in the tax filings. He also helped his brother locate others in various states to help assist in removing fraudulent tax refunds from the prepaid debit cards and wiring them to Nigeria. Agents found over 16,500 stolen identities in his email/IM accounts including 13,203 victims originating from an Oregon company database and over 4,500 E-File PINs. Agents directly linked him to 1,479 fraudulently filed tax returns and 1,202 IRS taxpayer transcripts. He participated in the scheme both before and after entering the United States in August 2014 on a student VISA.
Last August, a federal jury in Medford convicted Emmanuel Kazeem of 19 counts of mail and wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Based on evidence presented at the trial, Emmanuel Kazeem purchased over 91,000 of the stolen taxpayer identities from a Vietnamese hacker. These stolen identities originated from the Oregon Company database and most of them belonged to victims living in Oregon and Washington. His sentencing is currently set for March 22, 2018. The sentencings for two other co-conspirators, Lateef Animawun and Oluwamuyiwa Olawoye, are scheduled for November 15, 2017 and April 19, 2018, respectively. Two other co-defendants, Oluwaseunara Osanyinbi and Oluwatobi Dehinbo, were previously sentenced on May 18, 2017.
This case results from a joint investigation by IRS-Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General and the FBI. Investigative support was provided by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; the U.S. Department of State; and, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations and Enforcement and Removal Operations. Byron Chatfield and Gavin Bruce, Assistant United States Attorneys, are prosecuting the case for the District of Oregon.