- A Maryland man pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud conspiracy for his role in a COVID-19 scam.
- Odunayo Oluwalade, 25, faced up to 20 years in prison, The Department of Justice said.
- He admitted helping to set up a fake Moderna website that claimed people could buy the vaccine.
A Maryland man has pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud conspiracy for his role in a COVID-19 vaccine fraud scheme, after he allegedly worked with two others on securing a bank account for sales from a fake Moderna website.
Odunayo Oluwalade, 25, of Windsor Mill, a Baltimore suburb, entered a guilty plea for his role in the vaccine fraud on Friday. He faces up to 20 years in prison but a sentencing date hasn’t been set, the Department of Justice said in a press release.
Oluwalade was one of three people arrested in February for taking part in a scam that involved a duplicate website mimicking Moderna’s modernatx.com.
The duplicate site was hosted at modernatx.shop, according to a federal complaint unsealed that month. The fake site used “the logo, markings, colors and texts” of the real site, investigators said in an affidavit unsealed in February.
But the fake Moderna website added the line in capital letters: “You may be able to buy a COVID-19 vaccine ahead of time,” according to federal investigators.
The website provided contact info, which led investigators to Oluwalade and his alleged co-conspirators: his cousin, Olikatan Oluwalade, 22; and Kelly Lamont Williams, 22. The three were arrested and charged in February, investigators said.
“As the public seeks vaccines to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19, fraudsters are waiting to take advantage of their desperation,” James R. Mancuso, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Baltimore, said in a statement at the time.
The investigation began in January, when an undercover HSI agent reached out to the contact number on the website.
Within a few hours, the undercover agent was in an email conversation with firstname.lastname@example.org, which sent an invoice for 200 doses of Moderna’s vaccine at $30 a piece, or $6,000 in total, investigators said. The invoice called for half the payment to be sent upfront to a Navy Federal Credit Union account. The account belonged to Williams, according to an affidavit.
Investigators sent the $3,000, they said.
Four days later, with a warrant in hand, investigators seized the fake website’s domain. They also seized Williams’ phone. Investigators used that phone to text Oluwalade, they said in an affidavit, asking: “Yo where u want me send the bread.”
“Yea send me some thru zelle and some through cash app,” Oluwalade replied, referring to Zelle and
, according to an affidavit.
Oluwalade admitted in his guilty plea that he knew Williams’ account would be used as part of a fraud scheme, but “was not aware of the specifics of the scheme,” the DOJ said. “The scheme called for Oluwalade to be compensated for his role in obtaining bank accounts for use in the scheme.”