Five defendants from around the country have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Erie, Pa., on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in a scheme in which the Internal Revenue Service paid out approximately $10 million in tax refunds.

According to indictment, the five defendants conspired to commit wire fraud by submitting fraudulent federal tax returns in the names of individuals whose identities the conspirators stole. They then opened bank accounts using other stolen identities and used the accounts as repositories for their fraudulently obtained federal tax refunds.

The defendants obtained the stolen identity information on the Internet and then traded that information among themselves using email accounts and other means of communication. All told, the indictment alleges that approximately $21 million in fraudulent tax refunds was sought from the IRS by the conspirators, causing the IRS to pay approximately $10 million in fraudulent refunds. A portion of the stolen tax refunds was reportedly sent to Nigeria.

The 13-count superseding indictment, returned on April 8, 2014, named Doherty Kushimo, 52, of Providence, R.I.; Saburi Adeyemi, 56, of Memphis, Tenn., Abiodun Bakre, 49, Ozone Park, N.Y.; Adetunji Gbadegeshi, 57, of Queens, N.Y., and Adebola Mejule, 54, of Hempstead, N.Y., as defendants.

“We are making significant progress in our efforts to uncover identity fraud and protect citizens from criminals who steal their personal information and steal their money,” U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton said in a statement Wednesday announcing the charges. “We have dismantled a massive stolen identity ring that involved thousands of victims and tens of millions of dollars in losses.”

The law provides for a maximum total sentence of 20 years in prison for Adeyemi, Gbadegeshi and Mejule. Kushimo faces 38 years in prison and Bakre faces 36 years in prison. All five defendants are subject to a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the amount of loss to the victims. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendants.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian A. Trabold is prosecuting the case. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation conducted the investigation leading to the indictment in this case.

“Investigating refund fraud and identity theft is a top priority for IRS Criminal Investigation, and perhaps one of our most intense challenges,” said IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Akeia Conner in a statement. “Individuals who commit refund fraud and identity theft of this magnitude deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

“The use of the Internet for criminal purposes is one of the most critical challenges facing the FBI and law enforcement in general,” said Patrick Fallon, Asst. Special Agent in Charge of the FBI. “In order to combat Internet fraud, it is essential for law enforcement officers not only to understand and use the Internet, but also to join forces. This case illustrates the benefits of law enforcement and private industry, around the world, working together in partnership on computer crime investigations.”

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