Two men on the 'lower level' of an international crime gang who pleaded guilty to their involvement in an elaborate money laundering email scam where they fraudulently claimed payments of over €183,000 in Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) have been jailed.
Nigerian nationals Oluwagbewikeke Lewis and Bashiru Aderibigbe, who were described as church going "family men" appeared before Cork Circuit Criminal Court where they were jailed for three years and two and a half years respectively.
Judge Helen Boyle was told that 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. The recipients were asked to clink on a link which brought them to a cloned Department of Justice website.
Those impacted by the scam filled in personal information believing that they were signing up for jury duty. This information was used to claim fraudulent PUP payments.
The flaw in the plan was that as the persons involved were employed by the HSE or Tusla their jobs were not impacted by the Covid crisis. However, their personal details were used to fraudulently claim PUP and were subsequently flagged as not being genuine claims.
This case was first before the court last week and adjourned so that the co-defendants could finalise compensation.
Aderibigbe brought another €6,000 in compensation to court this morning.
His total compensation furnished is now €12,000. The court heard that cash totalling almost €3,300 was also seized at his home. This will be forfeited to the State.
Lewis managed to raise €5,000 in compensation.
Det Garda Eimhear Keeshan previously told Judge Boyle that the two men, who are friends, regularly corresponded on WhatsApp about the scam and reported to persons involved in international crime only known as the "Chairman" and "Ebony."
The offences first came to Garda attention on November 6th of last year when a garda on patrol stopped Mr Lewis, who is a father of two, in his Mercedes in Midleton. The Garda wasn't satisfied with the identity given to him by Lewis and a search was carried out of his car.
Det Garda Kieran Crowley recovered two passports and two Permanent TSB bank statements in other names. Mr Lewis (36) was found to be carrying a passport with his photograoh 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. Mr 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.
Public sector employees
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 payment with payments going in to 57 bank accounts. Det Garda Keeshan said that nine addresses had been used to open 28 of the bank accounts.
Gardaí have recovered €34,458 of the over €183,000 fraudulently claimed. That money has been frozen in a bank account.
Mr Aderibige (45) was captured on CCTV withdrawing money from bank accounts on 13 occasions. He withdrew in excess of €11,270.
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 Mr Lewis's phone was sent for analysis. Det Garda Keeshan said that a number of messages were sent between the men which mentioned "Chairman and Ebony."
She said that the men had opened accounts which allowed them to hold up to one million Euro. Det Garda Keeshan, said that €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.
Neither man has previous convictions. 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 Mr Lewis, said that 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.
Sinead Behan, Barrister, representing Mr Aderibige said that her client was a taxi driver who during the Covid downturn had succumbed to temptation and got involved in criminality.
She said that he was a family man who also supported his elderly mother in his native Nigeria and that he 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.
Ms Behan described Mr Aderibigbe as a "family man" who had shown genuine remorse. The raising of €12,000 in compensation was of "considerable significance" for her client as he is not a man of means.
Aderibigbe was jailed for three and a half years with one year suspended whilst Lewis was jailed for four years with one year suspended.