Abidemi Rufai, a suspended aide to Ogun State Governor Dapo Abiodun, pled guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in a Tacoma, Washington, federal district court.
Abidemi Rufai, 45, has been held in custody since his arrest at New York’s JFK airport in May 2021 on charges of using stolen identities to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
According to a plea bargain, Abidemi Rufai unlawfully obtained the personal identifying information of over 20,000 Americans between 2017 and 2018 in order to submit over $2 million in claims for federally funded benefits through a number of relief programmes. Over $600,000 was distributed by the many agencies involved.
His wire fraud reached its zenith when he defrauded the Washington State Employment Security Department, which paid $350,763 in bogus pandemic unemployment claims to accounts controlled by Abidemi Rufai.
Additionally, the Nigerian made bogus pandemic jobless claims in at least 17 other states.
Rufai also attempted to mislead the Small Business Administration (SBA) by obtaining Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) related to the COVID-19 outbreak. He fraudulently submitted 19 EIDL applications between April 8, 2020, and June 26, 2020. According to the applicants, the SBA awarded $10,000.
Between 2017 and 2020, Rufai submitted 675 bogus claims to the IRS in an attempt to get more than $1.7 million in tax refunds. The IRS settled these claims for $90,877.
Rufai’s attempts to benefit himself through fabricated catastrophe claims predate COVID-19. He filed 49 disaster relief applications in connection with Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma in September and October 2017. He submitted two bogus claims totalling $24,500 and was compensated for thirteen claims totaling $6,500.
Rufai has promised to compensate the scammed agencies in their whole.
Wire fraud is punished by up to 30 years in jail in connection with a presidentially proclaimed catastrophic catastrophe or emergency. Aggravated identity theft carries a two-year jail sentence in addition to any other sentence issued. Prosecutors agreed to propose a sentence of no more than 71 months. The suggestion is not binding on United States District Judge Benjamin H. Settle, who will determine the appropriate sentence on August 15, 2022, after taking the sentencing guidelines and other statutory circumstances into account.
The FBI investigated Rufai’s case with the assistance of the Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, and the United States Small Business Administration’s Office of the Inspector General. Washington’s Department of Employment Security is helping with the probe.
Seth Wilkinson and Cindy Chang of the Western District of Washington’s Assistant United States Attorney’s Office are prosecuting the case.