Two men, Taiwo K. Onamuti and Muideen A. Adebule, were indicted yesterday, June 7th, on 23 federal charges relating to a fraud scheme that involved the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data retrieval tool on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website to acquire personal, identifying information in order to file fake tax returns.
United States Attorney Josh Minkler announced the indictment of the two men who pulled off an intricate scheme of aggravated identity theft, identity theft, false claims, and conspiracy according to a press release from the Attorney’s Office of the Southern Indiana District.
In total, Onamuti, Adebule, and others unlawfully received or attempted to receive roughly $12,686,634 in federal tax refunds. This development falls in line with the initial fears expressed by the IRS after the tool was taken down according to earlier coverage by LendEDU.
“The Onamuti organization is responsible for stealing the identities of thousands of victims, including students who were simply trying to apply for financial aid,” said Minkler. “The organization’s criminal conduct disrupted countless lives, and led to the theft of more than $12 million from the United States Treasury—money that could and should have been spent for the benefit of the taxpayer.”
The indictment alleges that Onamuti, Adebule, and other conspirators acquired pertinent personal information such as names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers of their victims from March 2014 through March 2016.
The accused perpetrators allegedly stole this information in two ways. One method involved purchasing the information via E-mail. The second tactic relied on the data retrieval tool on the FAFSA website. The criminal organization would then use the stolen information to file false tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service.
After Onamuti and his co-conspirators filed thousands of fraudulent electronic tax returns, they directed the IRS to deposit the refunds onto prepaid debit cards purchased by the accused perpetrators. The debit cards were then used to purchase money orders at different locations in Indiana and Georgia.
The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Education, and the United States Postal Inspection Service.
“The announcement of today’s indictment and arrest illustrates the tremendous work of IRS Criminal Investigation and our law enforcement partners to defend innocent taxpayers from the abuse of their stolen personal information,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge, Gabriel Grchan. “This type of crime not only results in theft of taxpayer funds, but also has a damaging impact to those victims whose personal information was used without authorization. IRS Criminal Investigation aggressively investigators all persons engaged in this type of criminal activity.”
Assistant United States Attorney Tiffany J. Preston, who is prosecuting the case on behalf of the government, said that the charges bring with them maximum sentences of five to fifteen years of imprisonment, and for the aggravated identify theft charges, two years’ imprisonment to be served consecutively.
In March, under fears of compromised personal information, the Department of Education and IRS removed the data retrieval tool from the fafsa.gov and StudentLoans.gov websites until further security measures could be implemented. Removing the tool during the peak of the financial aid application season disrupted the process for both parents and students who were trying to submit FAFSA forms. The tool’s absence even caused a bit of political backlash for the Department of Education.
Author: Dave Rathmanner
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