A Powder Springs man has been indicted on charges related to a business email compromise (BEC) scheme targeting a Pennsylvania university.
Federal prosecutors say Denis Onderi Makori, 34, defrauded the school out of more than $2 million.
Various individuals were involved in the scheme, which led the university to send payments via Automated Clearing House (ACH) — an online network for processing transactions — to a bank account controlled by Makori, Kurt R. Erskine, the acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said in a news release.
An FBI agent said in an affidavit in support of Makori’s arrest that Makori and other unknown accomplices sent emails in September 2017 to the university’s comptroller masquerading as one of its medical technology vendors, McKesson Provider Technologies, based in Alpharetta. The email requested the university change its payment method from physical check to ACH transfer and asked the university to transfer money to accounts controlled by Makori. The email account used was fraudulent and accessed from IP addresses in Kenya (Makori is a Kenyan national). Makori’s PNC bank account was accessed online from Chicago and Dubai, the agent wrote. The agent believes at least one other person conspired with Makori.
The university discovered the scam when McKesson contacted it in December to ask why they had not been paid, according to the affidavit.
The news release and the affidavit initially identify the school as simply “a Pennsylvania university.” However, the affidavit makes passing reference to “Temple,” stating at one point that McKesson did not use the email address “or communicate directly with Temple’s comptroller office.” In another reference, the agent writes, “A.V.A. Logistics (Makori’s company) does not have a connection to Temple or McKesson.”
Temple University is a public research university in Philadelphia with about 40,000 students. Spokespeople for Temple University and the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not confirm Temple University as the victim of fraud by press time.
Makori laundered the funds by moving them among bank accounts associated with his logistics company, then to bank accounts in Kenya, to himself and others, prosecutors say.
Per the affidavit, the third and final transfer sent by the university — for about $722,000 — was reversed by the bank. Most of the remaining money was withdrawn by 22 personal checks in late 2017 and redeposited into other accounts.
The indictment only contains charges and Makori is presumed innocent until he is tried, the federal prosecutors emphasized.
The case is being investigated by the FBI with assistance from the Chicago office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“BEC schemes like this alleged one are a big reason why the Georgia Cyber Fraud Task Force, comprised of federal, state and local agencies, was launched in February,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, in the news release. “It takes a combination of education and our priority to investigate and prosecute these cases to make it a deterrent to those who contemplate committing these crimes.”