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Gov’s Aide Arrested In New York Over $650m Fraud

Peter Jerome

One of the Senior Special Assistants (SSAs) to Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, Abidemi Rufai, suspected in Washington state’s $650 million unemployment fraud was arrested last week Friday, at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport by federal agents in an alleged attempt to elope the country.

Abidemi Rufai who appeared in federal court on Saturday on charges of allegedly using the identities of more than 100 Washington residents to steal more than $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington state Employment Security Department during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, risk getting up to thirty years in imprisonment sentence.

According to Tessa Gorman, acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, in a statement on Monday, while describing Rufai’s offense as punishable by up to thirty years in prison especially when it relates to benefits paid in connection with a presidentially declared disaster or emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, disclosed that though being the first, will not be the last, as they will be significant arrest in the ongoing investigation of ESD fraud.

Within days, officials disclosed that “hundreds of millions of dollars” had likely been stolen in a fraud scheme that law enforcement officials and cybercrime experts said was partly based in Nigeria.

“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.

Rufai also filed fraudulent unemployment claims with Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania. Rufai used variations of a single e-mail address in a manner intended to evade automatic detection by fraud systems. By using this practice, Rufai made it appear that each claim related to a different email account.

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 the Jamaica, New York address of Rufai’s relative. Law enforcement determined more than $288,000 was deposited into an American bank account controlled by Rufai between March and August 2020.

His arrest comes almost a year after officials announced they were suspending unemployment benefits payments after discovering that criminals had used stolen Social Security numbers and other personal information to file bogus claims for federal and state unemployment benefits.

“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,” he said.

The case was investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG). The fraud on ESD is being investigated cooperatively by the FBI, DOL-OIG, Social Security Office of Inspector General, U.S. Secret Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations. The Washington Employment Security Department is cooperating in the investigation.

The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Seth Wilkinson, Cindy Chang, and Benjamin Diggs of the Western District of Washington, and Trial Attorney Jane Lee of DOJ’s Cyber Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS).

According to the Seattle Times, Rufai is scheduled for a detention hearing on Wednesday.

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