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  1. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)
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  3. Maryland Man Sentenced to 53 Months for Unemployment Insurance Fraud Conspiracy Resulting in More Than $1.6 Million in Losses Following HSI Baltimore Investigation

Maryland Man Sentenced to 53 Months for Unemployment Insurance Fraud Conspiracy Resulting in More Than $1.6 Million in Losses Following HSI Baltimore Investigation

Release Date: March 7, 2024

Fraudster and co-conspirators submitted more than 200 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims using the personal identifying information of victims.

BALTIMORE — An investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Washington division, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General National Capital Region, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Baltimore field division, the Anne Arundel County Police Department and the Maryland State Police landed a Maryland man in federal prison for 53 months followed by three years of supervised release for his role in an unemployment insurance fraud conspiracy that cost his victims more than $1.6 million. Michael Akame Ngwese Ay Makoge, 29, of Laurel, received the sentence Feb. 29 for a wire fraud conspiracy and for aggravated identity theft, related to a Maryland and California unemployment insurance fraud scheme. Furthermore, Makoge was ordered to forfeit more than $297,400 and to pay restitution of $2,094,319.

Makoge’s co-conspirator, Christian Malik Adrea, 26, of Mitchellville, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft Feb. 26 for his role in the fraud scheme.

“Mr. Makoge and his co-conspirators are modern-day thieves who not only engaged in financial theft, but they also robbed their victims of their security and peace of mind,” said HSI Baltimore Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris. “The crimes that these conspirators engaged in undermined the integrity of the unemployment insurance system and has the potential to harm those in genuine need of assistance. HSI will continue to work tirelessly to dismantle such financial fraud networks operating in Maryland.”

According to the investigation, from March 2020 to October 2021, Makoge and his co-conspirators impersonated victims to submit fraudulent claims for pandemic-related unemployment insurance benefits in Maryland and California. As part of the scheme, Makoge and his co-conspirators obtained the birthdates, Social Security numbers, and other personal identifying information of numerous victims which they used to prepare and submit fraudulent applications for benefits. The applications contained false information, including the victims’ contact information, states of residence and availability for work.

These fraudulent applications caused financial institutions to load benefits onto debit cards and mail the cards to physical addresses provided and monitored by Makoge and his co-conspirators. Once Makoge and his co-conspirators received the fraudulently obtained benefits on the debit cards, they used them for cash withdrawals and other transactions for their own financial benefit.

When investigators searched Makoge’s residence on Feb. 16, 2021, they recovered 11 unemployment insurance debit cards in the names of six victims. Makoge, Adrea and another co-conspirator were present at the time of the search. The investigation also revealed numerous text messages between Makoge and his co-conspirators, including Adrea, exchanging victims’ personally identifying information and discussing the execution of the scheme.

Authorities also seized Adrea’s phone during the search and discovered that the phone contained the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of 22 victims. The total loss of funds tied to these victims as well as those sent via text message totaled $195,556 and involved over 45 different fraudulent claims.

The investigation further revealed that Makoge made numerous ATM withdrawals using the identities of victims, personally obtaining at least $35,540 as a result of his participation in the scheme. Unemployment insurance records revealed that the Adrea and his co-conspirators are connected to multiple profiles of actual victims whose identities were used to open accounts and obtain benefits without their permission. These victims are also tied to texts and calls between Adrea and his co-conspirators over several months.

In all, Makoge, Adrea and their co-conspirators submitted more than 200 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims using victims’ names and personally identifying information, resulting in more than $1.6 million in losses.

The investigation has resulted in five of the 11 defendants charged in this fraud scheme, including Makoge and Adrea, pleading guilty to charges. Two, Makoge and Dementrous Smith, have now been sentenced. Adrea’s sentencing is scheduled for May 30.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s District of Maryland Strike Force is one of five strike forces established throughout the United States by the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute COVID-19 fraud, including fraud relating to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The act was designed to provide emergency financial assistance to Americans suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The strike forces focus on large-scale, multistate pandemic relief fraud perpetrated by criminal organizations and transnational actors. The strike forces are interagency law enforcement efforts, using prosecutor-led and data analyst-driven teams designed to identify and bring to justice those who stole pandemic relief funds.

HSI Baltimore, USPIS Washington, DOL-OIG National Capital Region, ATF Washington, the Anne Arundel County Police Department and MSP investigated this case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland prosecuted the case. The U.S. Marshals Service, the Prince George’s County Police Department, the Montgomery County Police Department, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office provided significant assistance with the investigation of this case.

HSI encourages members of the public to report instances of fraud, crimes, or suspicious activity by calling the HSI Tip Line at 877-4-HSI-TIP. The tip line is staffed 24 hours a day.

Learn more about HSI’s mission to increase public safety in your community on X, formerly known as Twitter, at @HSIBaltimore.

Last Updated: 04/22/2024
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