By Kirk Leigh
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced over the weekend that a Nigerian man, 29-year-old Chidozie Collins Obasi, had been declared wanted by the US for defrauding hospitals in the New York Area of $31 million.
Between September 2018 and June 2020, the heist involved offering non-existent COVID-19 ventilators for sale in hospitals primarily in the New York area.
In a statement by the DOJ, seen in United States Attorney Jacqueline C. Romero announced that Chidozie Collins Obasi, 29, of Nigeria, “was charged by Indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, six counts of mail fraud, and 16 counts of wire fraud, all stemming from a complicated, evolving fraud scheme that initially targeted Americans through a spam email campaign offering illegitimate “work from home” jobs, and then during the COVID-19 pandemic shifted to targeting U.S. hospitals and medical systems by offering non-existent ventilators for sale beginning in March 2020, and finally shifted again in June 2020 to using stolen identity information of American citizens to apply for and obtain Economic Injury Disaster Loans (“EID Loans”).
The Indictment alleges that Obasi perpetrated this fraud from Nigeria, with the help of co-conspirators in Canada and elsewhere. The defendant and his co-conspirators are alleged to have obtained more than $31,000,000 through this multi-faceted fraud scheme, with the overwhelming majority of that money – more than $30 million – coming from the State of New York for the intended purchase of ventilators.
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What the US DOJ is saying
The statement went further to explain how Obasi and his gang operated.
“The scheme alleged in the Indictment began in September 2018, with a spam email campaign that offered phony ‘work from home’ jobs.
“When a person responded to the phony job offer, Obasi or a co-conspirator posed as a representative of a legitimate company, often a supposed medical equipment supplier based outside the United States, and offered the person a job as the company’s U.S. representative with responsibilities including collecting on outstanding invoices.
“An accomplice in Canada then sent the new ’employee’ counterfeit checks purportedly from customers of the company, and the new ’employee’ deposited the checks, took a commission, and wired the rest of the money to a foreign bank account ostensibly owned by the fake company. Obasi and his co-conspirators obtained more than $1 million in this manner.
“In 2020, Obasi went further to pose as a ventilator salesman for an Indonesian medical supply company.
“In approximately March 2020, soon after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States and ventilators were in high demand, Obasi posed as a representative of an Indonesian-based medical supply company offering ventilators for sale, and claimed to have a large stockpile of ventilators manufactured by a German company.
“Obasi allegedly convinced a medical equipment broker in the U.S. to broker sales of these non-existent ventilators, and ultimately deceived the State of New York into wiring more than $30 million for the purchase of ventilators that did not exist.
“Later, in approximately June 2020, Obasi and his accomplices took advantage of the EID Loan programme by using stolen identities of U.S. citizens to apply for and obtain more than $135,000 in EID Loan proceeds,” the statement read.
According to the indictment sheet, Obasi who is presently a fugitive is being charged with “one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, six counts of mail fraud and 16 counts of wire fraud.”
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He faces a maximum sentence of 21 years in prison, a five-year period of supervised release, and a $5,750,000 fine and would also be required to make full restitution of the more than $31,000,000 that he allegedly obtained by fraud if found guilty.