Nigerians admit wire fraud charge for info on tax returns for state workers


RUTLAND — Two Nigerians, implicated in a conspiracy last year to file fraudulent tax returns with stolen personal identification information from 100s of state of Vermont employees and other government workers, have agreed to plead guilty, court records show.

Eneye Dania, 30, and Osariemen Isibor, 31, are both scheduled to formally admit to a felony wire fraud charge on March 22 in U.S. District Court in Rutland, court records show. Both have signed 7-page plea agreements that have been filed in federal court.

They each face up to 20 years in prison, followed by up to 3 years of supervised release by the federal probation office. There also is a potential fine of up to $250,000 imposed on each.

Chief Federal Judge Geoffrey Crawford is free under each plea agreement to order full restitution for the financial losses suffered by the Vermont victims.

The government has agreed it will not prosecute either defendant for other known crimes related to fraudulent tax returns as long as they each are truthful.

Dania and Isibor initially entered not guilty pleas in separate arraignments last summer.

The two indictments charge that between January and March 2106 in Vermont and elsewhere the defendants were each part of a conspiracy designed to defraud and obtain money by false pretenses through the use of private financial taxpayer information. The information allowed them to file false and fraudulent U.S. tax returns to obtain refunds, the indictments said.

While they were named in separate indictments, a prosecutor and court papers indicated the two men are linked through the criminal investigation. Dania was captured on a video making cash deposits in Texas into Isibor's bank account, records show.

Vermont officials said an estimated 500 state employees potentially were impacted in January 2016 when they clicked on a link on a bogus email sent by scammers.

The operation, known as "phishing," sends emails intended to trick victims into giving conspirators access to the victims' personal financial information. The criminal recipients often live outside the United States.

The bogus notice had told Vermont state employees that their electronic W2s were available and to click on the link to log in to view and print them.

The employees thought they were connecting to a state human resources website, but it was bogus, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Drescher said in September. When they logged in, their credentials with personal information were stolen.

That marked the first public connection to a January 2016 announcement by then-Vermont Human Resources Commissioner Marybeth Spellman and Department of Information and Innovation Commissioner Richard Boes that tax and identity information had been compromised for state employees.

Drescher made the disclosure as he argued against the release of Isibor so he could try to return as a graduate student to Northern Illinois University in DelKalb while awaiting for his criminal trial. The prosecutor questioned if Isibor would stick around to face criminal charges. Isibor entered the county with a student Visa in January 2017.

The government believes Dania was engaged in the conspiracy mentioned in the indictment before he ever arrived in the United States, the prosecutor said.

Dania obtained a Visa claiming he was coming to the United States in March 2017 to attend a wedding, court records state. His application said he planned to arrive in — and depart a week later from - Baltimore, Drescher reported.

According to his Visa application, Dania claimed about $1,000 per month for his income while in Nigeria, records show.

They note that when arrested Dania said he had no income from employment in the United States.

Dania was observed on surveillance video making two cash deposits into the account of Isibor - another member of the conspiracy - at a branch bank in Texas in March 2017, Drescher wrote. The deposits totaled $17,500.

A bank surveillance photograph showing Dania depositing a fist full of money is included as a court exhibit in the motion that requested his detention pending trial.

"Dania claimed, post arrest, that he had received this money from a woman in a lounge. That Dania has access to such funds, and was distributing them to his fellow conspirator, indicates both a capacity to obtain resources to flee the United States, as well as a financial connection to his cohort in crime," Dresher wrote.

Records show Isibor made contact on one of his cellphones with an "Eneye" on March 7, four days after Dania arrived in America.

Isibor on March 24, 2017 opened the bank account that Dania made the first of two deposits, Drescher wrote.

He said the first came after five connected phone calls between the two men. The second bank deposit happened March 24 and also followed a phone call, Drescher said.

The last known phone call between the two men was June 5. Three days later authorities arrested Dania near Fort Worth, Texas, where he was in the process of obtaining a permit to drive, Drescher said. The prosecutor noted there were 156 "phone events" between the two men, including texts, up to the time of the arrest and none since.

Dania reported he was married, unemployed and had $6 when arrested, records show.

Isibor also had unexplained sources of wealth before his arrest, officials said. Isibor also lied to police about his contacts with Dania, Drescher said.

While the government said Dania was allowed under his Visa to remain in the United States until Sept. 2, 2017, prosecutors believed he would flee to Nigeria and never return for court hearings in Vermont.

"Personnel from the United States Department of Justice Office of International Affairs have advised that there is no realistic prospect that a person such as Dania could be extradited from Nigeria," Drescher wrote. In a separate motion he said the same about Isibor.

"The conspiracy captured the victims' login credentials, thereby providing members of the conspiracy with easy access to the W2 information of the victims," Drescher wrote.

He said Isibor was a recipient of stolen login credentials and distributor of W2 information to other members of the conspiracy.

Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy ordered both men detained pending trial. He noted Isibor's lack of ties to the United States, except the university, Conroy also noted the strong ties to his home country, where Isibor could not be extradited from if he fled.

Conroy also said Dania was a risk not to be available for his trial.

Dania was arrested June 8, 2017 near Fort Worth, Texas and Isibor was arrested in Highland, Illinois a week later.


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