[Baltimore Sun] Laurel man sentenced to federal prison after $1.6 million pandemic scheme

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A Prince George’s County man was sentenced to 53 months in federal prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with a scheme to steal more than $1.6 million in unemployment insurance benefits related to the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. District Court Judge Brendan A. Hurson issued the sentence to Michael Akame Ngwese Ay Makoge, 29, of Laurel, as part of a plea deal in which Makoge admitted that he and a group of co-conspirators impersonated victims in order to submit fraudulent claims for the pandemic-related benefits in Maryland and California in 2020 and 2021, according to a statement the U.S. Department of Justice released Friday.

Hurson, a federal judge serving in the District of Maryland in Baltimore, added three years of supervised release to Makoge’s sentence and ordered him to pay restitution of $2,094,319 and forfeit more than $297,000.

One of Makoge’s co-defendants, Christian Malik Adrea, 26, of Mitchellville, pleaded guilty February 26 to charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for his role in the scheme. Adrea has agreed that if the court accepts his plea, he will be sentenced to 65 months in federal prison.

Makoge, Adrea, and nine co-conspirators submitted more than 200 fraudulent claims over a 19-month span, resulting in more than $1.6 million in losses, according to the statement. Five, including Makoge and Adrea, have pleaded guilty, and Makoge and one other man have been sentenced.

Dementrous Von Smith, 36, of Waldorf, pleaded guilty in December for his part in the scheme. Hurson sentenced him, like Makoge, to 53 months in prison and three years’ supervised release.

Makoge and the co-conspirators impersonated victims in order to submit the fraudulent claims in Maryland and California, the statement said. Among other offenses, the group obtained the birthdates, social security numbers and other personal identifying information of individuals whose lives were affected by the pandemic, then used them in preparing fraudulent unemployment insurance claims.

They provided false contact information on the forms, causing financial institutions to send the insurance benefits, which were loaded onto gift cards, to addresses monitored by Makoge and other members of the group.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or using the NCDF Web Complaint Form at justice.gov.

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