Man to serve 32 months in phishing scheme that targeted Groton schools
A Nigerian man who participated in a "phishing" scheme to obtain the personal identifying information of school employees in Groton and Glastonbury in Connecticut and Bloomington, Minn., and to file false tax returns in their names was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court to 32 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
Daniel Adekunle Ojo, 34, who was living in Durham, N.C., when he was arrested in August 2017, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer also ordered Ojo to pay $36,926 in restitution to the IRS. The judge imposed three years of supervised release, though the court file indicates Ojo would be subject to deportation upon his release from prison. He entered the country on a three-week visiting visa in 2016 and failed to depart on his scheduled date.
According to court documents, an imposter posing as Superintendent Michael Graner sent an email to the district's business office in March 2017 and asked for W-2 forms using the address firstname.lastname@example.org.
The email stated: "I need W-2copy list of all Employees wage and tax statement for 2016. Kindly prepare and attach the lists in PDF file type and email them to me for review as soon as possible. Thanks, Michael."
An employee in the school's business office sent copies of the W-2 information for approximately 1,300 school district employees to the address. The following day, employees of the school district spoke with Graner and learned the request for the W-2 forms had not come from him.
According to the government, approximately 100 suspicious 1040 forms were filed electronically with the IRS in the names of victims of the Groton phishing scheme. These 100 tax returns claimed tax refunds totaling $491,737. The IRS released approximately $23,543 in refunds associated with the Groton victims. None of these funds could be traced.
A similar scheme was carried out in Glastonbury Public Schools, where the recipient of the fraudulent email responded by sending documents for 1,600 employees. According to the government, 122 suspicious 1040 forms were filed electronically with the IRS in the names of victims of the Glastonbury phishing scheme. The 122 tax returns claimed tax refunds totaling $596,897. Approximately six of the returns were processed, and $36,926 in fraudulently obtained funds were electronically deposited into various bank accounts.
Ojo controlled or used an aol.com email account and a gmail.com email account involved in the phishing scheme, according to the government. A search of Ojo's gmail account revealed emails implicating him in the scheme. One email contained six W-2 forms of employees of Glastonbury Public Schools, and the employees' personal identifying information.
Special agents from the FBI's cybercrime squad in New Haven and the IRS also investigated a similar scheme in Bloomington, Minn.
A second person, 35-year-old Olukayode Ibrahim Lawal, a Nigerian citizen living in Georgia, was indicted in May 2018 in connection with the scheme. His case is pending in U.S. District Court in New Haven and is scheduled for trial in November. He also is implicated in a Feb. 23, 2017, phishing scheme at Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden, in which 103 employees' W-2 forms were compromised. The IRS did not distribute any refunds in that case.
According to the government, Lawal entered the U.S. on a visitor's visa on Nov. 24, 2016, and did not leave by his scheduled departure date of Dec. 1, 2016.
Both men have been detained since they were arrested.
The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, with the assistance of the Durham, N.C., Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarala V. Nagala.