2 Md. men accused of plotting scheme to steal $8 million from disaster fund

Two Maryland men have been indicted for using stolen identities to apply for federal disaster aid, and cheating the Federal Emergency Management Agency out of at least $8 million.

Odinaka Ekeocha, of Laurel, and John Irogho, of Upper Marlboro, face charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Irogho is also facing charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

A U.S. Department of Justice news release said that Irogho, Ekeocha and several co-conspirators purchased hundreds of Green Dot debit cards between 2016 and 2018, in a massive scheme that involved using stolen personal information to apply for Critical Needs Assistance (CNA).

CNAs are available to people in an area affected by a national disaster. Once approved, FEMA would then deposit the money onto Green Dot debit cards.

Prosecutors said the applications were made in 2017, a time when FEMA was working to help victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as the wildfires in California.

According to court documents, FEMA paid at least $8 million in amounts of $500 per claim to the Green Dot debit cards purchased by Irogho and his co-conspirators.

The co-conspirators also filed false claims for Social Security, disability and unemployment benefits, as well as federal tax refunds, the news release said.

If convicted, Irogho and Ekeocha could face decades in federal prison.

Irogho is locked up and awaiting a detention hearing. No date for that has been set yet.

Ekeocha has been released under the supervision of U.S. Pretrial Services.

Last month a third man, Tare Stanley Okirika, of Laurel, admitted taking part in the scheme and using some of the money to pay rent. He pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy. His sentencing is scheduled for October.

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