Baltimore, Maryland – Odunayo “Baba” Oluwalade, age 25, of Windsor Mill, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to a federal wire fraud conspiracy in connection with a scheme purporting to sell COVID-19 vaccines.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Special Agent in Charge James R. Mancuso of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore; Special Agent in Charge Mark S. McCormack of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), Office of Criminal Investigations’ Metro Washington Field Office; Postal Inspector in Charge Daniel A. Adame of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service – Washington Division; and Chief Melissa R. Hyatt of the Baltimore County Police Department.
According to his guilty plea, Oluwalade conspired with others to obtain access to a bank account for use in the fraud scheme. Oluwalade admitted that he knew the bank account would be used for a fraud scheme, but was not aware of the specifics of the scheme. The scheme called for Oluwalade to be compensated for his role in obtaining bank accounts for use in the scheme.
As detailed in Oluwalade’s guilty pleas, the scheme involved the creation of a fake domain, named “Modernatx.shop” (the “Fake Domain”), which appeared visually similar to Company 1’s actual home page, including in the trademarked logos for Company 1, colors and markings. Company 1 is a biotechnology company that focuses on drug discovery, drug development, and vaccine technologies, including a vaccine for COVID-19. According to the plea agreement, unlike Company1’s website, the Fake Domain had the text: “YOU MAY BE ABLE TO BUY A COVID-19 VACCINE AHEAD OF TIME,” with a link to “Contact us.”
Oluwalade admitted that on November 13, 2020, he received a message from an individual asking him to obtain bank accounts to be used in the fraud scheme. On November 16, 2020, a co-conspirator texted Oluwalade that he had located someone who would allow them to use his Navy Federal Credit Union account for the fraud scheme. The co-conspirator provided Oluwalade with the banking information, which he sent to a second co-conspirator.
On January 11, 2021, an HSI Special Agent, in an undercover capacity (“UC”), contacted a number listed on the Fake Domain, which investigators determined was linked to an account on an encrypted messaging application which also allows voice-over-Internet calls and video chats. The number replied approximately two hours later requesting an e-mail address to contact the UC, which the UC provided. Approximately four minutes later the UC received an e-mail from email@example.com, an e-mail address which appears on the Fake Domain, purporting to welcome the UC to Company 1 and providing a brief description of Company 1 and the storage requirements of Company 1’s vaccine.
After several additional e-mails, the UC received information regarding payment, delivery, and purchase for alleged Company 1 vaccines from a Google e-mail address. The UC was sent a purported invoice for 200 doses of Company 1’s vaccine at $30.00 per dose, for a total of $6,000, with payment terms listed as 50% up front and 50% upon delivery. The UC was allegedly instructed to send payment to the Navy Federal Credit Union account discussed above. The UC transferred a portion of the funds to the account as directed.
According to his plea agreement and court documents, on January 15, 2021, the government seized the fake domain and executed a series of search warrants, including at the home of the co-conspirator with the Navy Federal Credit Union account. Investigators used that co-conspirator’s phone to send Oluwalade a message: “Yo where u want me send the bread?” (referring to the cash investigators had sent to Williams’s bank account for the purchase of alleged vaccines as directed). Oluwalade replied, “Yea send me some thru zelle and some through cash app.” Both Zelle & Cash App are online payment platforms. Oluwalade provided his Cash App User ID name, and investigators made a cash transfer of the funds to Oluwalade’s Cash App account per his request.
Odunayo “Baba” Oluwalade faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the wire fraud conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher did not schedule a sentencing date.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron commended HSI, the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Baltimore County Police Department for their work in the investigation. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Aaron S. J. Zelinsky and Sean Delaney, who are prosecuting the case.
For more information on the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and resources available to help the community, please visit www.justice.gov/usao/md.
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