A Hyattsville man pleaded guilty for his role in a fraud scheme that involved over 600 victims and $2.7 million in federal money from the CARES Act unemployment insurance.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland said that Sylvester Atekwane, 32, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud Wednesday, with some of his victims being elderly residents with whom he interacted as a caretaker.
“Some of the most vulnerable in our community trusted and relied on Atekwane and he abused them as they suffered through the pandemic — he will now be held accountable,” said Erek L. Barron, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.
Atekwane faces a maximum sentence of 20 years for his offense, and has been ordered to pay at least $250,000 in restitution.
During the scheme that lasted from February 2020 to February 2021, Atekwane received at least $150,000 in fraudulently obtained insurance benefits from 61 victims at either his address or at nearby addresses that he or an unspecified number of co-conspirators could access.
He also kept at least $6,000 himself, according to the attorney’s office.
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Federal prosecutors said that Atekwane and his co-conspirators agreed to collect the names, dates of birth and social security numbers of victims in order to impersonate them in the fraudulent unemployment claims.
Participants in the scheme would have the prepaid debit cards provided by the federal unemployment insurance sent to them, where Atekwane and others would then activate the cards and withdraw the allotted funds from ATMs.
One example of the scheme provided by the attorney’s office was when Atekwane abused his role as a caretaker to acquire a victim’s information in July 2020.
The victim lived in a group home and wasn’t able to handle their finances, so federal prosecutors said Atekwane used his position to unlawfully access and use the victim’s personal information to file for unemployment benefits.
Atekwane would later use an ATM in Seat Pleasant to withdraw the $1,000 he acquired from the victim’s unemployment application.