A Maryland man pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud conspiracy after authorities said he participated in a scheme that tried to sell COVID-19 vaccines.
Odunayo Oluwalade, a 25-year-old man from Windsor Mill, Maryland, faces up to 20 years in federal prison after entering the guilty plea on Friday, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. He and two other men were arrested in February for involvement in the fraud, which consisted of appearing as Moderna and selling COVID-19 vaccines.
The scheme consisted of the group creating the website “Modernatx.shop,” similar to the company’s actual domian “Modernatx.com“. The website also included the use of the company’s logos, colors and markings.
While Moderna’s actual website lists of how people can obtain the vaccine, the fake website included a link that said, “You may be able to buy a COVID-19 vaccine ahead of time,” along with a link to “contact us,” according to the plea agreement.
The scheme was brought to a halt after an undercover Homeland Security agent got in touch with a number listed on the fake website. Within hours of first connecting with the number, the agent received an invoice from the email “email@example.com” for 200 doses of the vaccine, which said cost $30 each.
The agent was directed to pay to a bank account that belonged to one of the co-conspirators, which investigators seized days later, along with the website. Using a the co-conspirators phone, investigators sent Oluwalade a text saying, “Yo where u want me send the bread?” which Oluwalade said yes to and asked for it to be sent through Zelle and Cash App. Oluwalade then gave his Zelle and Cash App account information to investigators, according to his plea.
Oluwalade admitted he knew a bank account would be used for the scheme, but didn’t know how it would operate. He added he would be compensated for obtaining bank accounts for the scheme. Oluwalade has not been sentenced by a judge yet.
“As the public seeks vaccines to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19, fraudsters are waiting to take advantage of their desperation. We want to remind the public to exercise extreme caution online, especially when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and protective equipment,” James R. Mancuso, special agent in charge of the Baltimore division of Homeland Security, said when the arrest were made in February.
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