Abidemi Rufai 42, a Senior Special Assistant to Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun in Southwest Nigeria is facing the possibility of a 30-year jail term if found guilty of wire fraud in the United States of America.
In the US, wire fraud is punishable by up to 30 years imprisonment when it relates to benefits paid in connection with a presidentially declared disaster or emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rufai popularly known as Sandy Tang, was arrested on Friday evening, May 14, at the John F Kennedy International Airport in New York on a criminal complaint connecting him with wire fraud for his scheme to steal over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department.
According to Tessa M. Gorman, Acting US Attorney who made the announcement, Rufai made his initial appearance Saturday, May 15, in New York. He is scheduled for a detention hearing Wednesday.
In a statement released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Monday, May 17, the criminal complaint alleges that Rufai used the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with ESD for pandemic-related unemployment benefits. He also filed fraudulent unemployment claims with Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Rufai used variations of a single email address in a manner intended to evade automatic detection by fraud systems. By using this practice, he made it appear that each claim was connected with a different email account.
“Since the first fraud reports to our office in April 2020, we have worked diligently with a federal law enforcement team to track down the criminals who stole funds designated for pandemic relief,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Gorman. “This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud.”
Rufai caused the fraud proceeds to be paid out to online payment accounts such as ‘Green Dot’ accounts, or wired to bank accounts controlled by “money mules.”
Some of the proceeds were then mailed to Jamaica and New York addresses of Rufai’s relatives. Law enforcement determined more than $288,000 was deposited into an American bank account controlled by him between March and Aug. 2020.
“Greed is a powerful motivator. Unfortunately, the greed alleged to this defendant affects all taxpayers,” said Donald Voiret, Special Agent in Charge FBI Seattle. “The FBI and our partners will not stand idly by while individuals attempt to defraud programs meant to assist American workers and families suffering the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Ogun Governor orders his suspension
Meanwhile, Kunle Somorin, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Ogun State said the governor had ordered the immediate suspension of the arrested aide.
Somorin said in a statement sent to HumAngle that the Governor “received the very disturbing news of the arrest of one of his political appointees, Mr Abidemi Rufai, in New York over alleged unemployment benefits fraud in the United States.”
“In view of the gravity of these allegations, the Governor has ordered the immediate suspension of the accused appointee.”
He remarked that the Governor was committed to an open, transparent, accountable and morally upright administration and would not condone any act bordering on criminality by anyone.
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