A Nigerian national who delivered newspapers in Woburn pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges that he bilked subscribers of more than $240,000 and used their financial information to file bogus tax returns and collect refunds from the state and federal governments.
Ikponmwosa Ogiugo, 22, of Reading, entered his plea to the 23-count indictment in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn and was held on $25,000 cash bail, officials said. He remained in custody on Wednesday, and his lawyer could not be located.
Ogiugo is due back in court on Aug. 2 for a pretrial conference. After Ogiugo’s arrest in March, a judge ordered him to surrender his passport to prevent him from fleeing, officials said at the time.
In a statement, District Attorney Marian Ryan’s office laid out details of the alleged scheme. It was detected in December and stretched from Massachusetts to several other US states and to India.
Ogiugo collected tips from at least 16 subscribers, most of them elderly, in the form of checks and entered the routing information and account numbers on computer-generated blank checks, prosecutors said. He also allegedly used information from the tip checks and other sources to open fraudulent bank accounts.
Ogiugo sent counterfeit checks to people residing out of state, who deposited them in New Jersey, New York, Florida, Alabama, and Washington, prosecutors allege. Authorities believe some people thought the checks were legitimate and deposited them into their own accounts and forwarded the proceeds to recipients in India, at Ogiugo’s direction.
MaryBeth Long, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said she could not comment on whether any depositors were accomplices.
Asked if authorities believe Ogiugo acted alone, Long said, “he is the only person charged, but if any [additional] information came to light, we would certainly pursue an investigation.”
She could not say which newspapers Ogiugo delivered or identify the company that he worked for.
All told, he allegedly fleeced customers of more than $240,000 and used their personal information to file dozens of false tax returns with the state of Massachusetts and the Internal Revenue Service, Ryan’s office said.
The state Department of Revenue caught 54 phony returns but paid out three separate refunds, while the IRS issued two, the statement said. Ogiugo allegedly netted over $17,000 from the tax collectors but had sought more than $200,000, authorities said.
An IRS spokeswoman declined to comment on Wednesday.
Ann Dufresne, a spokeswoman for the state Revenue Department, wrote in an e-mail that the agency is “always trying to stay ahead” of new tax schemes.
“While we did catch all the returns that the defendant allegedly electronically filed, the three that were paid out met the individual scoring criteria that our manual reviewers use to determine the likelihood that it is a legitimate return,” Dufresne said.
She added that the agency will determine the best way to recoup the money.