Two plead guilty to PUP fraud totalling over €183,000 using email scam

Oluwagbewikeke Lewis and Bashiru Aderibige pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering after they were involved in an email scam after securing the email addresses of 74 individuals employed by the HSE or Tusla.
Two plead guilty to PUP fraud totalling over €183,000 using email scam

Olivia Kelleher

Two men have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering after they were involved in an email scam which facilitated the fraudulent claim of over €183,000 in Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).

Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard that that Oluwagbewikeke Lewis of Brookdale, Midleton, Co Cork and Bashiru Aderibige, formerly of Dwyers Road, Midleton, but now living in Ballincollig, Co Cork, had managed to secure the email addresses of 74 individuals employed by the HSE or Tusla. The emails were subject to a data breach.

Emails were sent out to the 74 people and the recipients were asked to click on a link which brought them to a cloned Department of Justice website.

The people impacted by the scam filled in personal information believing they were signing up for jury duty and this information was then used to claim fraudulent PUP payments.

The flaw in the plan was because the people targeted involved were employed by the HSE or Tusla, their jobs were not impacted by the Covid crisis and the claims were subsequently flagged as not being genuine.

Detective Garda Eimhear Keeshan told Judge Helen Boyle that the two men, who are friends, regularly corresponded on WhatsApp about the scam and reported to those involved in international crime only known as the "Chairman" and "Ebony".

The offences first came to Garda attention on November 6th, 2020 when a garda on patrol stopped Mr Lewis, who is a father of two, in his Mercedes in Midleton.

The Garda was not satisfied with the identity given to him by Lewis and a search was carried out of his car.

Search

Det Garda Kieran Crowley recovered two passports and two Permanent TSB bank statements in other names. Lewis (36) was found to be carrying a passport with his photograph, but bearing a different name. Lewis, who is a native of Nigeria, was arrested, and an investigation was launched.

The court heard that whilst both men had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, Lewis also entered additional pleas in relation to six counts of using a false instrument and one count of being in possession of stolen property — namely a passport.

Det Garda Keeshan said 61 out of the 74 persons impacted by the email scam made garda statements. It was established that the majority were employed by the HSE or Tusla.

Using false information, the men made 121 fraudulent applications for the PUP with payments going to 57 bank accounts. Det Garda Keeshan said nine addresses had been used to open 28 of the bank accounts.

Gardaí have recovered €34,458 of the over €183,000 fraudulently claimed, with the sum frozen in a bank account.

Aderibige (45) was captured on CCTV withdrawing money from bank accounts on 13 occasions. He withdrew in excess of €11,270 and arrived in court with €6,000 in compensation and the promise of raising more funds and Lewis plans to hand over €5,000 in compensation.

Withdrawals

Det Garda Keeshan said on one occasion in August 2020, both men were captured on CCTV footage in the Crescent Shopping Centre in Dooradoyle, Co Limerick with Mr Aderibige seen withdrawing funds.

Following his arrest in Midleton, Lewis' phone was sent for analysis. Det Garda Keeshan said a number of messages were sent between the men which mentioned "Chairman and Ebony."

She said the men had opened accounts which allowed them to hold up to €1 million. Det Garda Keeshan said €30,000 of the funds fraudulently received via PUP went to a German Bank Account, but they cannot account for the rest of the monies. The total loss to the State is in the region of €150,000.

Neither of the men have previous convictions, the court heard. Det Garda Keeshan said the men were in contact with a person only referred to as the "Chairman" whom they suspect is the boss of an international criminal organisation.

Tom Power, barrister for Lewis, said his client's entering of a guilty plea in the case has saved the State the cost of a trial that could have lasted up to six weeks.

He added his client had moved from his native Nigeria five years ago and was in a long term relationship with an Irish woman with whom he has a child.

He stated Lewis was an active member of a church and teaches children how to use DJ equipment.

Sinead Behan, barrister for Aderibige said her client was a taxi driver who, during the Covid downturn, had succumbed to temptation and had got involved in criminality.

She said he was a family man who also supported his elderly mother in his native Nigeria and had "a lesser involvement" in the operation. Ms Behan added that her client now lives in rented accommodation in Ballincollig, Co Cork and has no trappings of wealth.

The case will be finalised on November 10th and was adjourned in order to finalise matters of compensation. Both men were remanded in custody until their next court appearance.

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