CEDAR FALLS — A Georgia man suspected in the data breach at the University of Northern Iowa has pleaded guilty to fraud charges stemming from tax return schemes in Iowa.
Bernard Ogie Oretekor, a native of Nigeria who had been living in Georgia, also entered pleas to charges connected with email phishing scams that drained money from bank accounts.
The plea came Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., where some of his phishing victims lived.
Oretekor also was suspected in tax refund scams involving workers at University of Tennessee, Purdue and Butler universities in Indiana, Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., and Michigan State University.
“Generally speaking, the fraud involved obtaining the personal information of university employees in various states and using it to file fraudulent tax returns in their names, thereby enabling the perpetrators, including Mr. Oretekor, to pocket the refunds,” prosecutors said in a memo submitted as part of the plea.
The total amount of money stolen hasn’t been disclosed, but records show the IRS found 223 fraudulent tax claims totaling more than $1.6 million in the names of University of Tennessee workers alone.
Details of the plea agreement weren’t available, but court records indicate Oretekor pleaded guilty to the following charges:
Theft of government property and aggravated identity theft for applying for and stealing another person’s tax return for $98,000 in Iowa in 2014.
Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering stemming from the email takeover and advance-fee schemes in 2012 and 2013 that included moving money to a Singapore bank.
Identity theft for possessing personal information with the intent to submit a false claim with the United States government in 2013 in Oakland County, Mich.
Possession of a Social Security number with intent to defraud the United States and possession of a Social Security number in relation to the commission of a felony in Tennessee.
Charges originally filed in Iowa, Tennessee and Michigan were transferred to the California court.
Sentencing will be at a later date, and Oretekor, 45, remains in custody in the Santa Clara County Jail.
Officials at the University of Northern Iowa began investigating a possible data breach in 2014 after more than 100 employees reported receiving rejection letters from the IRS because someone had applied for tax refunds using their names.
Investigators were looking into Oretekor in a 2012 case involving the theft of $312,115 from a Redwood City, Calif., couple who had apparently clicked on a link in a bogus email that asked them to reactivate their Yahoo account. The link allowed others to access their email, obtain their financial information and redirect money to accounts controlled by Oretekor.
He also posed as a South African diplomat named Emmanual Libs, who had sought payment of fake fees and taxes with the promise of a $19 million payout, court record state.
When investigators searched Oretekor’s Georgia home, office and storage locker as part of the email takeover and South African diplomat probes, they found a computer with personal information belonging to university employees who were hit by the tax refund scam, court records state.