A 29-year-old Bloomington man has been sentenced to nine-plus years in prison for stealing the identities of 465 people and filing false tax returns throughout the United States that inflicted extensive financial and emotional hardship upon his victims.
Ayotomide Ajifowobaje led a corps of co-conspirators in filing the false returns from May 2014, and possibly earlier, through January seeking nearly $2.2 million, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
The IRS paid out about $340,000 on those returns in filings that were submitted in Minnesota, Georgia and elsewhere. Along with the prison time, Ajifowobaje’s sentence Tuesday in federal court in Minneapolis also calls for him to make full restitution to the IRS and to his victims.
Ajifowobaje, who pleaded guilty in federal court in Minneapolis on July 24, bought from thieves stolen names, addresses, dates of birth and social security numbers,of hundreds of individuals. He, with the help of others in his ring, electronically filed fraudulent tax returns using his victims’ correct identity information but containing false W-2 information, withholding amounts and other fake information.
Ajifowobaje then created fake e-mail addresses to track the status of the return and expected refund. He then bought hundreds of debit cards and activated them using the same stolen identities that he used to file false returns.
In an effort to conceal his identity from law enforcement, Ajifowobaje and his co-conspirators filed some of the false returns from hotels using free Wi-Fi.
In arguing in a court filing for a prison sentence of 11 years, the prosecution said Ajifowobaje inflicted upon his victims “financial hardship, injury to their credit records requiring significant time and effort to explain and repair, the necessity of obtaining identity theft protection in some cases, along with anxiety [over] having their identities compromised and fraudulent tax returns filed in their names.”
The prosecution also noted that Ajifowobaje had just a few years ago been convicted of misdemeanor for passing $1,200 in counterfeit currency.
Ajifowobaje would have perpetuated the scheme if he had not been caught, the prosecution continued, pointing to the stolen identities of about 3,000 people on his laptop computer.
Before sentencing, Ajifowobaje’s defense argued in its court filing for a prison term of two years, pointing out that the defendant’s judgment was “clouded” by depression after the death of his father and the effects of medication and alcohol.
The defense also pinned much of the blame for Ajifowobaje’s role in the scheme on “people from his native land [of Nigeria] who introduced him to a way to make money, albeit illegally.” Those cohorts ended up with “much of that money,” the defense contended.
Ajifowobaje was the only person charged in the scheme. The others were considered unindicted co-conspirators, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.