BALTIMORE – Odunayo “Baba” Oluwalade, age 25, of Windsor Mill, Maryland, pleaded guilty Oct. 29 to a federal wire fraud conspiracy in connection with a scheme purporting to sell COVID-19 vaccines by fraudulently replicating the website of a biotech company that has an authorized COVID-19 vaccine.
The guilty plea was the result of an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore partnered with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), Office of Criminal Investigations’ Metro Washington Field Office; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service – Washington Division; the Baltimore County Police Department; and the United States Attorney’s Office. This investigation is part of HSI’s Operation Stolen Promise.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
Oluwalade faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the wire fraud conspiracy.
HSI launched Operation Stolen Promise in April 2020 to protect the Homeland from the increasing and evolving threat posed by COVID-19-related fraud and criminal activity. As of February 9, the agency has seized more than $33 million in illicit proceeds; made 225 arrests; executed 206 search warrants and analyzed more than 74,000 COVID-19 domain names. For its role in the operation, C3 applies technological, operational and criminal investigative expertise, products and services to target the criminals and organizations attempting to commit cybercrimes and exploitation related to COVID-19.
Federal law enforcement agencies are united in our efforts to fight against COVID-19 fraud. HSI has identified tips to recognize and report COVID-19 fraud. If you believe you are a victim of a fraud or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you may also call the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or go to justice.gov/coronavirus.