Man sent to prison for $400k role in massive tax fraud

AVOCA, PA - SEPTEMBER 17: Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to reporters at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport after participating in a CNN town hall event on September 17, 2020 in Avoca, Pennsylvania. Due to the coronavirus, the event is being held outside with audience members in their cars. Biden grew up nearby in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A sixth Nigerian citizen will serve prison for his role in a tax fraud case that cost the government more than $11 million.

Oluwole Oluwaseun Odunowo, 37, of Houston, Texas, was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Medford to 4-1/2 years in prison for mail fraud and aggravated theft for his role in an elaborate scheme to use a cache of stolen identities — largely belonging to Oregonians — to file false tax returns in the victims’ names, intercept their Internal Revenue Service refunds onto prepaid debit cards then wire the money to Nigeria.

Odunowo’s sentence marks the apparent end to an investigation that U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Billy Williams in 2018 called “one of the largest tax fraud schemes in our nation’s history.”

After seven arrests and convictions over seven years, only one suspect in the case remains, Adebiyi Oduneye, who lives in Nigeria and was never apprehended.

The massive tax fraud investigation began in May 2013 with a Medford woman who reported to the IRS that someone had filed federal and Oregon tax returns in the names of her and her husband. The fraudsters used their actual names, birth dates and Social Security numbers but falsified other information to maximize the refund and intercept the payments onto GreenDot prepaid debit cards, according to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Ringleader Emmanuel Kazeem of Bowie, Maryland, is serving a 15-year prison sentence for the tax scheme, which ran from 2012 to 2015 and ultimately involved more than 259,000 stolen identities — including 91,000 identities from Oregonians that a Vietnamese hacker stole from a Lincoln City employment services company. Kazeem and five others used the stolen identities to file 10,139 fraudulent tax returns accepted by the IRS. The ring attempted to obtain more than $91 million in tax refunds, and actually obtained $11,646,163 from the government.

Kazeem’s brother, Michael Oluwasegun Kazeem, along with Lateef Aina Animawun, Oluwatobi Reuben Dehinbo, Oluwaseunara Temitope Osanyinbi and Oluwamuyiwa Abolad Olawoye have all been sentenced to prison. A seventh subject, Curtis S. Pethley, who was arrested in Illinois and later relocated to Madison, Wisconsin, was sentenced last year to 33 months in prison for his role purchasing prepaid debit cards for the ring — reportedly at the request of a contact he met through a dating site Pethley knew only by the name “queen_jenn,” and was actually a fraudster’s brother living in Lagos, Nigeria.

Odunowo used 700 of the stolen identities to file fraudulent tax returns in the ring, attempting to obtain more than $1.5 million and actually getting $402,846 from the IRS, according to court documents filed last month by assistant U.S. Attorneys Byron Chatfield and Gavin Bruce.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken sentenced Odunowo Tuesday to 54 months in prison, and ordered that he repay $402,846 in restitution.

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