By Akinwande Soji-Ojo
Abidemi Rufai, the suspended aide of Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft at the United States District Court in Tacoma, Washington State.
Rufai, 45, admitted using stolen identities to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in pandemic-related unemployment benefits, U.S. Attorney, Nick Brown, said.
He has been in custody since his arrest at New York’s JFK airport in May 2021.
According to the plea agreement, since 2017, “Abidemi Rufai unlawfully obtained the personal identifying information for more than 20,000 Americans to submit more than $2 million in claims for federally funded benefits under a variety of relief programs. The various agencies involved paid out more than $600,000.
“The largest amount of fraud was committed against the Washington State Employment Security Department, which paid out $350,763 in fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims to accounts controlled by Abidemi Rufai.
“The Nigerian also submitted fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims in at least 17 other states.
“Mr Rufai also defrauded the Small Business Administration (SBA) by attempting to obtain Economic Injury Disaster loans (EIDL) tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Between April 8, 2020, and June 26, 2020, he submitted 19 fraudulent EIDL applications. SBA paid out $10,000 based on the applications.
“Between 2017 and 2020, Rufai also attempted to obtain more than $1.7 million in IRS tax refunds by submitting 675 false claims. The IRS paid out $90,877 on these claims.”
Rufai’s efforts to enrich himself with false disaster claims did not start with COVID-19. In September and October 2017, he submitted 49 disaster relief claims connected to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. He filed $24,500 in false claims and was paid on 13 claims, totaling $6,500.
Rufai has agreed to pay full restitution to the defrauded agencies.
Wire fraud in relation to a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Aggravated identity theft is punishable by two years in prison to follow any prison term imposed on another charge.
Prosecutors have agreed to recommend no more than 71 months in prison. The recommendation is not binding on U.S. District Judge, Benjamin H. Settle, who will determine the appropriate sentence on August 15, 2022, after considering the sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
Rufai’s case was investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the Department of Labour Office of Inspector General, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, and the United States Small Business Administration Office of the Inspector General. The Washington Employment Security Department is cooperating in the investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys,Seth Wilkinson and Cindy Chang, of the Western District of Washington.
On May 17, 2021, the U.S. Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud such as the one perpetrated by Rufai.
The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programmes to prevent fraud by augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts.
U.S. Department of Justice and Premium Times