The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday charged 10 individuals with using business email compromise and money laundering schemes to target public and private insurers.
These schemes targeted Medicare, state Medicaid programs, private health insurers and numerous other victims, resulting in more than $11.1 million in total losses.
The charges stem from BEC schemes where these alleged individuals posed as business partners to fraudulently divert money from victims’ bank accounts into accounts they or co-conspirators controlled, the DOJ says.
The charged individuals allegedly recruited money mules to transfer money and used spoofed email addresses, bank account takeovers and similar fraudulent methods designed to deceive victims into believing that they were making legitimate payments.
This is DOJ’s first coordinated action against individuals from multiple states in connection with multiple BEC, money laundering and wire fraud schemes.
Total losses tied to business email compromise theft domestically and internationally totaled $43.3 billion from June 2016 through December 2021, according to the most recent FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center annual report.
The FBI warned earlier this year that business email compromise scams are on the rise, with real and actual losses increasing by 65% in the 14-month period ending last December.
In part, it attributed the increase to the novel coronavirus pandemic and its knock-on effect of shifting more work online.
The DOJ says that these attackers fraudulently diverted payments intended for hospitals to provide medical services.
They tricked victims by spoofing hospital’s email accounts and sent emails requesting future payments for medical services to be sent to the newly created bank accounts controlled by the co-conspirators.
“Five state Medicaid programs, two Medicare Administrative contractors, and two private health insurers allegedly were deceived into making payments to the defendants and their co-conspirators instead of depositing the reimbursement payments into bank accounts belonging to the hospitals,” the prosecutors say.
DOJ alleges that these individuals then laundered the proceeds fraudulently obtained by “withdrawing large amounts of cash, layering them through other accounts they or their co-conspirators opened in the names of false and stolen identities and shell companies.”
Prosecutors allege that they also transferred funds overseas and purchased luxury goods and exotic automobiles.
The charges unsealed against the defendants in multiple states include six defendants in the Northern District of Georgia who are Patrick Ndong-Bike, 32, of Atlanta, Georgia, was charged with four counts of money laundering.
Ndong-Bike allegedly used false identities to open bank accounts and shell companies to receive approximately $2.4 million of proceeds of BEC fraud. In total, he laundered approximately $679,000, according to DOJ.
If convicted, Ndong-Bike faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Desmond Nkwenya, 35, of Atlanta, Georgia was charged with two counts of money laundering and one count of bank fraud. He allegedly used false identities to open bank accounts and shell companies to receive approximately $308,000 derived from BEC fraud and laundered all of it.
Nkwenya also allegedly received approximately $119,000 as a result of a fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loan application. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.
Cory Smith, 29, of Atlanta, Georgia was charged with three counts of money laundering. He allegedly opened a bank account in the name of a false identity and used that account to receive and launder more than $57,000 fraudulently diverted from a private company in a BEC scheme.
If convicted, Smith faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Chisom Okonkwo, 26, of Atlanta, Georgia, was charged with three counts of wire fraud, two counts of aggravated identity theft, and six counts of money laundering.
DOJ alleges that Okonkwo used stolen and false identities to open accounts in the names of shell companies that received approximately $830,000 in proceeds from BEC fraud and other similar schemes.
Okonkwo laundered approximately $535,000 through a variety of transactions, including withdrawing large amounts in cash and was also allegedly paid for a luxury car through a fraudulent loan she obtained in the name of a stolen identity.
If convicted, Okonkwo faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Olugbenga Abu, 45, of Atlanta, Georgia, was charged with one count of bank fraud, one count of wire fraud, and four counts of money laundering.
The prosecutors allege Abu used a false identity to open a bank account that received and laundered more than $95,000 of BEC fraud proceeds.
He also allegedly obtained a fraudulent loan of more than $341,000 and an additional $65,000 of loan proceeds from the Small Business Administration. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.
Trion Thomas, 50, of Stone Mountain, Georgia, was charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. He allegedly received and laundered $93,000 of Medicare payments that had been fraudulently diverted because of a BEC scheme. If convicted, Thomas faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Another defendant who was charged was Biliamin Fagbewesa, 31, of Columbia, South Carolina. He was charged with three counts of money laundering and one count of unlawful procurement of naturalization.
Fagbewesa allegedly used a stolen identity to open bank accounts to receive more than $1.4 million of proceeds fraudulently diverted from a state Medicaid program, a hospital, and others.
“Approximately $583,000 of which Fagbewesa laundered and spent on, among other things, Fagbewesa’s rental payments. If convicted of the top count, he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison,” the DOJ says.
The other three defendants who were previously charged are Malachi Mullings, 29, of Sandy Springs, Georgia; Adewale Adesanya, 39, of Jonesboro, Georgia; and Sauveur Blanchard Jr., 49, of Richmond, Virginia.
The alleged schemes by the defendants caused more than $4.7 million in losses to Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurers.
They also caused an additional $6.4 million in losses to federal government agencies, private companies and individuals like elderly romance fraud victims who were deceived into sending hundreds of thousands of dollars.