Fraud alleged with disaster relief funds
A man is accused of taking thousands of dollars in Hammond from the American Red Cross that was intended for Texas hurricane victims, court records show.
Olanrewaju A. Beyioku, 38, was charged Nov. 8 with wire fraud in a criminal complaint in Hammond’s federal court.
Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area Aug. 25, 2017, “causing extreme damage,” the complaint states.
The Red Cross set up a link on its website where hurricane victims could apply for a one-time $400 cash assistance payment that could be redeemed with a reference code at a Walmart money center or customer service desk, according to the complaint. After the codes were distributed in September 2017, Red Cross “received multiple calls reporting that people who were not hurricane victims were cashing in multiple reference codes at various Walmart stores across the United States.”
The Walmart in the 7800 block of Cabela Drive in Hammond had 81 fraudulent transactions totaling $32,400 between Oct. 12 and Oct. 16, 2017, according to the complaint. Nine of those transactions, amounting to $3,600, were made between Oct. 12 and Oct. 13, 2017, by Beyioku, it states.
Beyioku made three fraudulent transactions the morning of Oct. 13, 2017, at the Walmart, receiving $1,200 in cash, according to the complaint. He left the store driving a white Chevrolet Uplander minivan, court records state, then around 3:15 p.m. that day, he returned to the Walmart in a Ford Freestar minivan and made one fraudulent transaction for $400. Beyioku sat in his vehicle before returning to the store about 30 minutes later to make another three fraudulent transactions for $1,200 in cash, the complaint states.
Each time, Beyioku signed a receipt that read, “The American Red Cross provides this gift which is made possible by the generosity of the American Pub- lic,” according to the complaint.
All of the reference codes that were redeemed by Beyioku were sent to variations of the same email address, court records state.
“Beyioku was not the intended recipient of any of the disaster relief reference codes,” the complaint states. “In fact, the Red Cross allotted each household affected by Hurricane Harvey only one reference code.”
Beyioku used the names “Ake Nathan” and “Papa Smith Morgan,” a name determined to be his alias, to buy money orders, according to the complaint. Beyioku was seen in a white Chevy Uplander, which matched the vehicle seen on Walmart surveillance, at a Jewel-Osco in Munster where he deposited money to a bank account belonging to “Papa Smith Morgan,” the complaint states.
Beyioku’s driver’s license listed an address in the 700 block of McKinley Street in Gary where an investigator saw a parked Chevy Uplander that matched the one at the Walmart and JewelOsco, according to the complaint.