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The Law

23.02.2024 Featured US Court Sentences Nigerian to Prison for COVID-19 Benefits Scam

Published 23rd Feb, 2024

By Joseph Adeiye

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville sentenced Valentine O. Odije, a 35-year-old Nigerian, to 21 months in prison for his involvement in a COVID-19 benefits scam on Wednesday.

Odije, also a US resident living in Georgia, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud. He and his partners-in-crime used an unauthorised access device related to his and his conspirators’ unlawful use of debit cards funded with COVID-19 unemployment insurance (“UI”) benefits.

Odije will also be on supervised release for a period of three years after spending time in a US prison. In addition, he was ordered to pay $661,082.19 in restitution and $86,651.68 in cash forfeiture.

READ ALSO: Nigerian Confesses to $6m Wire Fraud in US Court

“As set forth in the written plea agreement filed with the court, Odije was recruited into an ongoing scheme by individuals who were filing fraudulent UI benefits claims during the pandemic,” a statement published on the US Department of Justice website read in part.

“The fraudulent claims resulted in UI benefits being loaded onto debit cards that Odije possessed. Odije’s role in the scheme was to use those debit cards to withdraw cash and purchase money orders. Odije knew the debit cards were funded with unlawfully obtained UI benefits. Odije recruited others to help him access the UI benefits on the cards, selecting the cards for them to use and instructing them how to withdraw cash and purchase money orders.

“On July 17, 2020, Odije and his coconspirators used four debit cards at a retail store in the Eastern District of Tennessee to collectively withdraw $23,527.99 in UI benefits. When Odije and his coconspirators were arrested that day, Odije possessed 315 debit cards, 204 of which were funded with a total of $661,082.19 in unlawfully obtained UI benefits.”

READ ALSO: For Impersonating American Actor to Defraud a Lady of $200, Kaduna Man Gets 2-Year Prison Sentence

Odije’s co-conspirators were Dianne M. Coffie and Ayeesha Shah. Both of them have been convicted for their respective crimes.

A US court ordered Coffie to pay $90,000 in restitution in addition to a three-year probation sentence. Shah was sentenced to two years’ probation and ordered to pay $40,000 in restitution.

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Published 23rd Feb, 2024

By Joseph Adeiye

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