Abidemi Rufai, an official of the Ogun State government until his arrest, has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.
Mr Rufai, 45, acknowledged to claiming hundreds of thousands of dollars in pandemic-related jobless benefits using stolen identities according to US Attorney Nick Brown.
Abidemi Rufai has been held in detention since his arrest in May 2021 at New York’s JFK airport. Rufai was the Special Assistant to the Governor of Nigeria’s Ogun State at the time of his detention.
According to the plea bargain, Abidemi Rufai illegally stole the personal identifying information of more than 20,000 Americans between 2017 and 2018. This was in order to file more than $2 million in claims for federally funded benefits under a number of relief programs.
More than $600,000 was paid out by the different authorities involved.
The Washington State Employment Security Department was the victim of the most fraud with $350,763 in bogus pandemic unemployment claims sent to accounts controlled by Abidemi Rufai.
In addition, the Nigerian filed false pandemic unemployment claims in at least 17 other states.
Mr Rufai also misled the SBA by attempting to receive Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) related to the COVID-19 outbreak. He submitted 19 fake EIDL applications between April 8, 2020, and June 26, 2020. Based on the applications, the SBA awarded $10,000.
Abidemi Rufai attempted to get more than $1.7 million in IRS tax refunds by filing 675 bogus claims between 2017 and 2020. The IRS paid out $90,877 on these claims.
Mr Rufai’s efforts to benefit himself by fabricating disaster claims predate COVID-19. He filed 49 disaster assistance applications in September and October 2017 in response to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. He filed $24,500 in bogus claims; and was awarded $6,500 on 13 of them.
Abidemi Rufai has promised to pay the duped agencies full reparation.
Wire fraud in the context of a presidentially declared major disaster; or emergency carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail. Following any prison term issued on another offence; aggravated identity theft is punishable by two years in prison.
Prosecutors have agreed that no more than 71 months in prison should be recommended.
The recommendation will not bind U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle, who will decide on the appropriate sentence on August 15, 2022; after taking into account the sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
The FBI investigated Abidemi Rufai’s case with the help of the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General; the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations; the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General; and also the Small Business Administration’s Office of Inspector General.