By Anand Vasu
Olakitan Oluwalade, his cousin Odunayo Baba Oluwalade and Kelly Lamont Williams were arrested after the HSI Intellectual Property Rights Center and the HSI Cyber Crimes Center became aware of a fraudulent replication of the website of Company 1, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that focuses on drug discovery, drug development and vaccine technologies, including a vaccine for Covid-19.
The trio set up a fake website that advertised the availability of a Covid 19 vaccine ahead of time, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement. The home page of the fraudulent replication of Company 1’s website, named “Modernatx.shop” was visually similar to the Company 1 website, including the name and trademarked logos for Company 1, and the logo, markings, colors and texts.
On Jan. 11 2021 an undercover HSI agent contacted a number listed on the Fake Domain, which investigators determined was linked to an account on an encrypted messaging application which also allows voice-over-Internet calls and video chats.
The agent received a call in about two hours asking for an email address for further communication. After an exchange of multiple emails the undercover operative received details regarding payment, delivery, and purchase for alleged Company 1 vaccines from a Google e-mail address. The agent was sent a purported invoice for 200 doses of Company 1’s vaccine at $30.00 per dose, for a total of $6,000, with payment terms listed as 50% up front and 50% upon delivery.
Payment was to be sent to a Navy Federal Credit Union account in the name of Kelly Lamont Williams, and the agent transferred a part of the funds. On Jan. 15, 2021, the government seized the Fake Domain and HSI agents executed a search warrant at Williams’s home. Law enforcement subsequently executed search warrants at Olaki’s and Baba’s homes. As a result of these searches, investigators recovered a number of communications between Baba, Olaki and Williams discussing the fraud scheme.
After the search of Williams’ residence agents used a phone seized to send Oluwalade a message asking: “Yo where u want me send the bread?” Baba allegedly replied: “Yea send me some thru zelle and some through cash app.” Both Zelle and Cash App are online payment platforms. Investigators followed up and made the transfers as instructed.
In the affidavit, Olaki allegedly referred Williams to Baba as someone who could assist with the fraud. Williams allegedly agreed to allow the conspirators to use his bank account to deposit the fraud payments in exchange for a cut of the fraud proceeds.
Olaki allegedly was also supposed to receive a part of the fraud proceeds. Several of the recovered communications also indicated that Olaki allegedly applied for and received a fraudulent Covid-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan funded by the federal government in the summer of 2020.
The Baltimore-based trio were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with a scheme to allegedly sell purported Covid-19 vaccines. The complaint, which was filed on Feb. 9 was unsealed on Feb. 12 following the arrests of those charged.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
HSI launched Operation Stolen Promise in April 2020 to protect the Homeland from the increasing and evolving threat posed by Covid-19-related fraud and criminal activity.
As of Feb. 9, the agency has seized more than $33 million in illicit proceeds; made 225 arrests; executed 206 search warrants and analyzed more than 74,000 Covid-19 domain names.