Three sentenced in scam targeting tech vendors

Three people were sentenced to prison terms Thursday for their roles in a multimillion-dollar scheme targeting payments to IT and consulting services vendors from four state governments, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Among the companies targeted in the scam were Deloitte Consulting, Unisys, Accenture and EDS, now a part of Hewlett-Packard. The defendants were able to divert state payments totaling US$3.4 million from West Virginia, Kansas, Ohio and Massachusetts to bank accounts controlled by the co-conspirators, the DOJ said in a press release.

The scheme, which began in late 2008, targeted vendors that received large payments from states on a regular basis, the DOJ said. Co-conspirators located in the U.S. filed documents to create dummy entities with names similar to legitimate vendors, as well as fraudulent bank accounts in the names of the targeted vendors. With information acquired from the Internet and other sources, the co-conspirators completed direct deposit authorization forums for the targeted vendors.

The group then mailed electronic payment authorization forums to the states, allowing the defendants to hijack legitimate vendor payments, the DOJ said. The group wired more than $770,000 to bank accounts in Kenya.

Sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia were Robert Otiso, 36, of Elk River, Minnesota, to 72 months in prison for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud; Paramena Shikanda, 35, of Minneapolis, to 46 months in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering; and Collins Masese, 21, of St. Paul, Minnesota, to nine months in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering. The defendants are all natives of Kenya.

“Today represents a victory for taxpayers,” said U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II of the Southern District of West Virginia, in a statement. “When the state itself is defrauded, we all suffer. Money taken from the public treasury is money not available for schools, roads, and police and fire departments.”

The convictions stem from a federal investigation into the diversion of millions of dollars from the state of West Virginia.

In April and May, two other Kenyan nationals entered guilty pleas to charges stemming from their roles in the scheme. Michael Ochenge, 33, and Albert Gunga, 30, both of Minneapolis, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. They are scheduled to be sentenced next Thursday.

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