BALTIMORE–A federal criminal complaint has been filed charging three men on the federal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a scheme to allegedly sell purported COVID-19 vaccines, federal authorities said.
The criminal complaint was filed on February 9, and was unsealed Friday upon the defendants’ arrests.
Charged in the criminal complaint are: Olakitan Oluwalade, 22, of Windsor Mill, Maryland; Oluwalade’s cousin, Odunayo Baba Oluwalade, 25, of Windsor Mill; and Kelly Lamont Williams, 22, of Owings Mills, Maryland.
“My office and the entire law enforcement community are committed to bringing to justice fraudsters who are preying on citizens during this unprecedented public health crisis,” U.S. Attorney Hur said. “We will also continue our outreach efforts to make the public aware of scams and frauds. I urge citizens to remain vigilant and if you see something that doesn’t seem right, please report it. Don’t become a victim.”
“It remains a top priority for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to protect all Americans from individuals who take advantage of people during this public health emergency. We continue to work in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our partners in the COVID-19 Anti-Fraud Task Force to bring those who exploit people during this pandemic to justice,” said Inspector in Charge Peter Rendina of the Washington Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, on January 11, the Homeland Security Investigations Intellectual Property Rights Center and the Homeland Security Investigations Cyber Crimes Center became aware of a fraudulent replication of the website of a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that focuses on drug discovery, drug development and vaccine technologies, including a vaccine for COVID-19. On December 18, 2020, the FDA issued an emergency-use authorization for the biotechnology company’s COVID-19 vaccine to be distributed in the United States. The company’s public website provides information to the public on the products the company has developed, or is in the process of developing, including those focusing on combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
As detailed in the complaint affidavit, the home page of the fraudulent replication of the company’s website, appeared visually similar to the company’s real website and displayed its name and trademarked logos. The logo, markings, colors and texts on the fake domain were visually similar to that of the company’s actual home page. The source code of the fake site indicated that the creator of the site used a website tool to copy company’s actual website in order to create the fake site.
However, the affidavit alleges that the fake site (unlike Company 1’s home page) had the text: “YOU MAY BE ABLE TO BUY A COVID-19 VACCINE AHEAD OF TIME,” with a link to “Contact us.” On January 11, at approximately 3:58 p.m., an Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent, in an undercover capacity, contacted a number listed on the fake site, 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 email address to contact the UC, which the UC provided. The affidavit alleges that approximately four minutes later the UC received an email from email@example.com, an email address which appears on the fake site, 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.
According to the affidavit, after several additional emails, the UC received information regarding payment, delivery, and purchase for alleged the company vaccines from a Google email address. The UC was sent a purported invoice for 200 doses of the company’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 a Navy Federal Credit Union account in the name of Kelly Lamont Williams. The UC transferred a portion of the funds to Williams’s account as directed.
On January 15, the government seized the fake site and Homeland Security Investigations agents executed a search warrant at Williams’s home. Law enforcement subsequently executed search warrants at Olaki’s and Baba’s homes. As a result of these searches, investigators recovered a number of communications between Baba, Olaki and Williams discussing the fraud scheme. After the search at Williams’s residence, but before the searches at Olaki’s and Baba’s homes, investigators used Williams’s phone to send Baba 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). Baba allegedly replied, “Yea send me some thru zelle and some through cash app.” Both Zelle and Cash App are online payment platforms. The affidavit alleges that Baba provided his Cash App User ID name, and investigators made a cash transfer of the funds to Baba’s Cash App account per his request.
As detailed in the affidavit, Olaki allegedly referred Williams to Baba as someone who could assist with the fraud. Williams allegedly agreed to allow the conspirators to use his bank account to deposit the fraud payments in exchange for a cut of the fraud proceeds. Olaki allegedly was also supposed to receive a part of the fraud proceeds. Several of the recovered communications also indicated that Olaki allegedly applied for and received a fraudulent COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan funded by the federal government in the summer of 2020.
If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.