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Tue Aug 6, 2019, 05:57 AM

Prosecutors: Group swindled $8M designated for hurricane and wildfire victims

The money was supposed to be for those who needed to rebuild their lives.

In the wake of massive hurricanes and wildfires that pummeled the United States in recent years, the federal government made relief funds available for those who found themselves uprooted amid the rubble of charred or washed-out homes.

But in Maryland - far from where the California wildfires and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria struck - a group of residents managed to scam the federal government out of $8 million in relief funds designated for those who needed it most, according to prosecutors. Members of the group, prosecutors allege, were part of a scheme that stole the identity of disaster victims and applied for victim benefits - to pay their own rents, buy cars or make personal purchases.

“While many come forward in the wake of disasters to help selflessly, some use disasters to enrich themselves through theft and fraud,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert Hur said in a statement Friday announcing the arrest of two men in the alleged conspiracy.

John Irogho, 38, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, has been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to federal prosecutors. Odinaka Ekeocha, 33, of Laurel, Maryland, has been charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. Their arrests come a few weeks after another Maryland man, Tare Stanley Okirika, 30, of Laurel, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy, admitting that he fraudulently obtained government benefits to pay his rent and for other expenses, according to court documents.

Read more: https://www.fayobserver.com/zz/news/20190805/prosecutors-group-swindled-8m-designated-for-hurricane-and-wildfire-victims
(Fayettesville Observer)

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