SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Olamide Yusuf Bakare, a 26-year-old Nigerian national residing in Laurel, Maryland, has been sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for his involvement in a wire fraud conspiracy during the COVID-19 pandemic, announced U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert.
Bakare pleaded guilty in January 2023. Court documents reveal that from June 2020 to July 2021, Bakare, along with co-defendants Quazeem Owolabi Adeyinka and Ayodeji Jonathan Sangode, orchestrated a conspiracy to submit fraudulent unemployment insurance (UI) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims to the States of Maryland and California.
Over 200 individual applications were filed with the California Employment Development Department (EDD) and the Maryland Department of Labor (MDOL), all indicating that the claimants resided at a Hyattsville, Maryland apartment shared by the defendants.
During the scheme, the conspirators obtained personally identifiable information (PII) of individuals who were ineligible for UI or PUA benefits or had not authorized the use of their information for such claims. The stolen PII included names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers.
The defendants then exploited this information to file numerous fraudulent UI and PUA claims with EDD and MDOL under the identities of the claimants, without their knowledge or consent. These claims contained false representations, such as fake employment histories, incomes, and work statuses, including being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result of the fraudulent claims, EDD and MDOL approved at least 142 of them, leading to the deposit of benefit funds into debit card accounts administered by Bank of America under the claimants’ identities. The conspirators controlled the addresses where these unauthorized debit cards were mailed.
Bakare, along with his coconspirators, used the debit cards to withdraw cash from ATMs, benefiting themselves. During the investigation, it was revealed that Bakare possessed three additional UI debit cards linked to accounts with fraudulent benefits from state agencies in Maine, North Carolina, and Nevada. He had no rightful claim to these benefits and intended to defraud the state agencies.
The total amount of fraudulent UI and PUA benefits linked to the debit cards Bakare possessed was over $2.2 million. Some of this money was used to purchase a condominium in Lekki, Lagos State, Nigeria, which was ordered to be forfeited as part of his sentence.
The case was investigated by the Department of Labor – Office of the Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security – Office of the Inspector General – Covid Fraud Unit, and the California EDD – Investigation Division.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise N. Yasinow prosecuted the case.
Adeyinka and Sangode, Bakare’s co-defendants, also pleaded guilty to related charges. They are scheduled to be sentenced on August 22, 2023, by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd. Adeyinka faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison, while Sangode faces a maximum of 15 years, but the final sentences will be determined by the court based on various factors and guidelines.
This investigation was part of a California COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Strike Force operation, one of three interagency teams established by the U.S. Department of Justice to combat pandemic relief fraud. The California Strike Force focuses on large-scale, multistate fraud schemes carried out by criminal organizations and transnational actors, using a combination of law enforcement and prosecutorial resources to bring those responsible to justice.