US Attorney: Gary Man Charged with Fraud for Obtaining Hurricane Releif Funds

“At a time when individuals were going through some of the worst times in their lives, Mr. Beyioku seized the opportunity to enrich himself with hurricane relief funds meant for those who lost homes and businesses.”

US Department of Justice News Release

December 20, 2018-Olanrewajua A. Beyioku, 38, of Gary, Indiana, was charged in an indictment with wire fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Kirsch.

U.S. Attorney Kirsch said, “At a time when individuals were going through some of the worst times in their lives, Mr. Beyioku seized the opportunity to enrich himself with hurricane relief funds meant for those who lost homes and businesses. My Office and our law enforcement partners will continue to investigate those who defraud the government for personal gain.”

The Indictment alleges that, in September and October 2017, Beyioku, a.k.a. “Papa Smith Morgan,” working in conjunction with others, known and unknown to the United States Attorney, devised a scheme to defraud the American Red Cross (“Red Cross”) by obtaining reference codes intended for nine different households directly impacted by Hurricane Harvey, and by using those codes to obtain $3,600 in hurricane relief funds.

According to the Indictment, on August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston, Texas area causing extensive damage. President Donald J. Trump declared it a federal disaster area that same day, which made federal disaster relief funds available to those affected by the storm.

One type of federal disaster relief was a one-time cash payment of $400 through the Red Cross. The Red Cross established a link on their website where hurricane victims could apply for the cash assistance. Hurricane victims used their email addresses to apply. They entered personally identifiable information, including their address. If the address fell within a designated disaster area, The Red Cross forwarded the application electronically to an entity referred to herein as “Company A.”

Company A vetted the information, and electronically forwarded it to “Company B.” Company B then created an eleven-digit alphanumeric code. The code was then sent to the applicant with instructions to redeem the code at a Wal-Mart Money Center or Customer Service Desk.

In early September 2017, The Red Cross received reports of ineligible people redeeming multiple reference codes at various Wal-Mart stores across the United States. The Red Cross reported this to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (“NCDF”). With assistance from Wal-Mart Global Security Investigators, The Red Cross identified over 3,300 instances of fraudulently obtained reference codes. The loss to The Red Cross is more than 1.3 million dollars.

The United States Attorney’s Office emphasizes that an Indictment is merely an allegation and that all persons are presumed innocent until, and unless proven guilty in court.

If convicted, any specific sentence to be imposed will be determined by the judge after consideration of federal sentencing statutes and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

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