Maryland Man Pleads Guilty in COVID Vaccine Scam

Fake site set up to look just like Moderna's offered supposed doses for $30 a pop, feds say
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 1, 2021 7:41 AM CDT
Maryland Man Pleads Guilty in COVID Vaccine Scam
In this Aug. 15, 2021, file photo, vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are seen.   (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi, file)

(Newser) – Earlier this year, before COVID vaccines were readily available to eligible patients, a website suddenly popped up advertising Moderna doses for $30 each. That site turned out to be a fake, and now a Maryland man has owned up to his role in getting it up and running. The Baltimore Sun reports that Odunayo "Baba" Oluwalade, 25, of Windsor Mill pleaded guilty on Friday to a federal wire fraud conspiracy, admitting he helped find a bank account that could be used in the scheme, though he claims he didn't know specifics in how the scam was run, per a release from the US Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland.

Federal investigators became aware in early January of the website, which had the domain Modernatx.shop and looked strikingly like the real Moderna site, which can be found at Modernatx.com. The feds say the site noted, in all caps: "You may be able to buy a COVID-19 vaccine ahead of time." An undercover Homeland Security Investigations agent contacted a number on the site and after several back-and-forths arranged to purchase 200 doses of the supposed vaccine, for $6,000—half due up front, half later. The agent sent the first half of the payment to the bank account set up to receive the funds, and on Jan. 15, the government seized the fake website.

As for his role in the scheme, Oluwalade admits in his plea that in mid-November he got a message asking for his assistance in finding a bank account to funnel money to, and that a few days later, a co-conspirator texted him saying one had been found. Oluwalade took down info for that bank account and passed it along to yet another co-conspirator, per the release. After one of those co-conspirator's phones was seized during the execution of a search warrant, an investigator used that phone to text Oluwalade: "Yo where u want me send the bread?" Oluwalade replied, "Yea send me some thru zelle and some through cash app," referring to two well-known online payment platforms.

Oluwalade was arrested on Feb. 11. He was released on bond, under the conditions he give up his passport and not correspond with his alleged co-conspirators, one of whom is his cousin. Per the Post, this scam is one of many tied to vaccines and vaccine cards that have emerged during the pandemic. Per court records, the cases of Oluwalade's co-conspirators are pending. Oluwalade himself could see up to 20 years behind bars. A sentencing date has not yet been set. (Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)

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