4th May, 2022
Ijebu-Ode born Abidemi Rufai and former aide of Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun state has pleaded guilty to a series of fraud cases against him in federal court in Tacoma, Washington state, prosecutors said.
Rufai, 45, who gave his home address as Lekki, Lagos, acknowledged in U.S. District Court that he used stolen identities to receive more than $350,000 in pandemic-related unemployment benefits from Washington state.
According to the plea agreement, since 2017, 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 Rufai.
Rufai also submitted fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims in at least 17 other states.
Rufai 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 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, said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown.
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 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.
This case was investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the Department of Labor 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.
Rufai was arrested at New York’s JFK Airport on his way to Nigeria in May 2021. He has been in prison since then.