Two Nigerians were detained Tuesday after being indicted by the United States’ federal grand jury.
According to U.S. Attorney Nick Brown, 45-year-old Sakiru Olanrewaju Ambali and 45-year-old Fatiu Ismaila Lawal are accused of stealing COVID-19 relief and tax returns.
Ambali was arrested yesterday in Frankfurt, Germany, as he traveled back to Canada from Nigeria. Lawal was arrested in Canada. Each defendant remains in Germany or Canada respectively pending extradition to the U.S.
Ambali and Lawal are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 10 counts of wire fraud and six counts of aggravated identity theft.
The duo is accused of using personal information from more than 14,700 Americans to make over 1,700 claims for pandemic unemployment relief benefits, in addition to filing false tax returns.
The claims totaled over $25 million but Ambali and Lawal only received roughly $2.4 million, almost all of it coming from pandemic unemployment benefits. $253,000 came from the Washington Employment Security Department.
Over 900 claims were submitted to more than 25 states, Using 13 Google accounts they filed some 900 claims. The co-conspirators also allegedly established four internet domain names that they then used for fraud – creating some 800 different email addresses that were used for fraud.
Filing around 2,300 tax returns, Ambali and Lawal sought $7.1 million but only got about $30,000. The IRS was able to catch most of the fraudulent claims.
The duo also tried to steal identities from the Economic Injury Disaster Loans which would defraud the Small Business Administration.
Ambali and Lawal’s fraud scheme started at least five years ago in February 2018 and lasted until this past November.
They could face more than 30 years in prison. The conspiracy and wire fraud charges bring a maximum 30-year sentence, and aggravated identity theft has a mandatory minimum of two years consecutive to all other sentences.
The Washington State Employment Security Division and a special investigative team in western Washington worked with the FBI and others on the case.