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Thieves targeted $12 billion through IRS tax fraud

The IRS thwarted most attempts, but scammers got at least $1.6 billion

Joe Davidson - Washington Post - 18-10-19a
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The Internal Revenue Service building in Washington. Two government watchdogs say the IRS should do more to stop online tax fraud. (Susan Walsh/AP)
The Internal Revenue Service building in Washington. Two government watchdogs say the IRS should do more to stop online tax fraud. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Like others in business, thieves know a fertile market when they see it. As sophisticated cybercrooks look at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the $383 billion it paid out in fiscal 2017, their eyes must glaze with dollar signs.

On July 26, 2018, Okeke pleaded guilty to count one of an indictment that charged Okeke and Clement Onuama with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. The indictment charged that Okeke and Onuama participated in multiple frauds by means of wires, including romance frauds, business email compromises, identity theft, bank account takeovers, and credit card fraud. Okeke was found responsible for causing a fraud loss of $1,101,038. Count one also charged that Onuama and Okeke acted as the money launderers and washed the fraud proceeds through multiple bank accounts before withdrawing it in the form of cash and cashier’s checks, all in increments of $10,000 or less.

The investigation of Okeke and Onuama began following a report of fraud by two victims in Wisconsin, including a Madison, Wisconsin realtor and a Portage, Wisconsin title company. The investigation discovered victims of these fraud schemes in seven countries, and 16 states in the United States.

At today’s sentencing, Judge Conley told Okeke, “This is all such a waste. You threw it all away. You acted out of greed and a desire of money.” Okeke agreed, telling the judge he “did not know, and did not want to know, the consequences of his actions.”

In imposing a sentence in the middle of the advisory guidelines range of 41 to 51 months, Judge Conley explained to Okeke that “there are other people out there engaging in money laundering. This is a deliberative crime. And a message needs to get out that there is a consequence to it. A significant prison sentence is a way to get that message out to the public.”

The judge also noted that because Okeke is a Nigerian citizen, he will in all likelihood be deported back to Nigeria upon his release from federal prison, which the judge factored into his penalty analysis in determining the 45-month sentence.

Clement Onuama, Okeke’s co-conspirator, has pleaded guilty to federal charges for his role in these fraud schemes. He will be sentenced by Judge Conley on October 30.

The charges against Okeke and Onuama were the result of an investigation conducted by the Madison office of IRS Criminal Investigation. The prosecution of the case has been handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel J. Graber.


 

Tags: IRS, tax fraud, taxpayer

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