For Immediate Release
Waldorf Man Sentenced to Over Four Years in Federal Prison for COVID-19 CARES Act Unemployment Insurance Fraud Scheme Involving More Than $1.5 Million in Losses
BALTIMORE — U.S. District Judge Brendan A. Hurson sentenced Dementrous Von Smith, aka “Meecho” and “El Meecho,” age 36, of Waldorf, to 53 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for a wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, in relation to the submission of fraudulent CARES Act unemployment insurance claims in Maryland, California and Arizona totaling at least $1.5 million.
The sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Postal Inspector in Charge Damon E. Wood of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service - Washington Division; Special Agent in Charge Troy W. Springer of the National Capital Region, U.S. Department of Labor - Office of Inspector General; Chief Amal E. Awad of the Anne Arundel County Police Department; Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris of Homeland Security Investigations, Baltimore; Colonel Roland L. Butler, Jr., Superintendent of the Maryland State Police; and Special Agent in Charge Toni M. Crosby of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Baltimore Field Division.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act was a federal law enacted in March 2020 to provide emergency financial assistance to Americans suffering from the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial assistance offered through the CARES Act also included expanded eligibility for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits and increased UI benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) and the Lost Wages Assistance Program (LWAP).
According to his plea agreement, from March 2020 to October 2021, Smith and his co-conspirators impersonated victims to submit fraudulent claims for UI benefits in Maryland and California. As part of the scheme, Smith and his co-conspirators used electronic messages, phone calls, electronic mail and other means to aggregate and exchange the Personally Identifiable Information, or PII, of identity theft victims with each other, created false email address and phone numbers for the victims and used the fake emails and phone numbers in the fraudulent UI applications.
Once Smith and his co-conspirators received the fraudulently obtained benefits on debit cards, they used the cards for cash withdrawals and other transactions for their own financial benefit. For example, in July 2021, Smith was seen on bank surveillance using ATMs in Laurel to withdraw $4,000 over four transactions, using the UI profile in the name of one of the identity theft victims. Bank records also reveal that Smith called the bank regarding at least 12 UI profiles of actual victims whose identities were used to open accounts and obtain benefits without their permission. These victims are tied to texts and calls between Smith and his co-conspirators over several months. Smith and his co-conspirators personally conducted or attempted to conduct transactions involving at least $1.5 million in UI benefits.
On July 7, 2022, law enforcement executed search warrants for Smith’s residence and vehicle, recovered, among other items, a 7.62 caliber firearm, a loaded 1911 style pistol, several magazines loaded with multiple rounds of various caliber ammunition, more than 176 rounds of various caliber ammunition and $9,100 in cash.
Co-defendant Michael Akame Ngwese Ay Makoge, aka “Hype” and “2Hype,” age 28, of Laurel, pleaded guilty to his role in the fraud scheme and faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison for the wire fraud conspiracy and a mandatory two years in federal prison, consecutive to any other sentence imposed, for aggravated identity theft. Judge Hurson has scheduled sentencing for Makoge on Feb. 1, 2024.
The District of Maryland Strike Force is one of five strike forces established throughout the U.S. by the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute COVID-19 fraud, including fraud relating to CARES Act. The CARES Act was designed to provide emergency financial assistance to Americans suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The strike forces focus on large-scale, multi-state pandemic relief fraud perpetrated by criminal organizations and transnational actors. The strike forces are interagency law enforcement efforts, using prosecutor-led and data analyst-driven teams designed to identify and bring to justice those who stole pandemic relief funds.
For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus. Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron commended the USPIS, DOL-OIG, the Anne Arundel County Police Department, HSI, MSP and ATF for their work in the investigation. Mr. Barron thanked the U.S. Marshals Service, the Prince George’s County Police Department, the Montgomery County Police Department, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office for their assistance. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen E. McGuinn, who is prosecuting the federal case.