Two Foreign Nationals Sentenced to Federal Prison for Role in Austin-Based Multi-Million Dollar S.I.R.F. Scheme
In Austin today, a federal judge sentenced two foreign nationals formerly living in Austin to federal prison in connection with a multi-million dollar Austin-based Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) scheme announced United States Attorney John F. Bash; Acting Special Agent in Charge Andy Tsui, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI); Inspector in Charge Adrian Gonzalez, United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Houston Division; and, Special Agent in Charge Shane Folden, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), San Antonio Division.
United States District Judge Lee Yeakel sentenced 36-year-old Ibrahim Alu and 40-year-old George Ismail to eight years and seven years in federal prison, respectively. Judge Yeakel also ordered them to pay joint and several restitution in the amount of $1,358,489.
In January 2018, both defendants pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud. According to court records, Alu and Ismail entered the United States claiming to be Sudanese citizens escaping persecution and requested asylum. Neither defendant had any documents establishing who they were or where they were from. Both claims were eventually denied by DHS because these claims were false. Both defendants could not be deported back to Sudan, since they were not from Sudan, so they remained in the U.S. and were given permission to work. However, the investigation revealed that both defendants gave false names to U.S. authorities and were in fact citizens of Nigeria.
Both Alu and Ismail used their time in the United States to participate in a fraudulent scheme to steal the identity of hundreds of U.S. citizens and exploit those identities for financial gain by filing fraudulent tax returns and by opening credit cards in the names of the victims. They also laundered the proceeds of other fraudulent activity in furtherance of the conspiracy. The intended loss of the fraud conspiracy was approximately $3.9 million dollars.
Among the ways that the conspiracy illegally acquired Personal Identification Information (PII) of U.S. victims was through operating cleaning services in the Austin area, cleaning offices, and then looting those offices for PII. Among the locations the conspiracy victimized were medical facilities, where patient files were stolen, and the ARC Pooled Trust of Greater Austin, which helps to provide financial security services to people with developmental and physical disabilities.
Authorities are still looking to arrest Nigerian national co-defendants Dele Akanbi (aka “SK”), age 44, and George Najomo, age 54.
Agents from the IRS-CI, USPIS and HSI conducted this investigation along with assistance from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)--Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). Assistant United States Attorneys Michael C. Galdo, Gregg N. Sofer and Elizabeth Cottingham are prosecuting this case on behalf of the Government.
It is important to note that an indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. Akanbi and Najomo are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.