A United States (US) District Court in Tacoma, Washington State has sentenced Mr. Abidemi Rufai – suspended aide of Ogun Governor Dapo Abiodun – to five years in prison for fraud.
Rufai, a 45-year-old resident of Lekki, Lagos, was convicted of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for his attempt to steal nearly $2.4 million from the US government, including approximately $500,000 in Covid-19 pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
According to a statement by The US Department of Justice for the Western District of Washington, Rufai admitted to a long history of using stolen identities to defraud U.S. disaster programmes, including aid for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and file fraudulent U.S. tax returns.
It noted that although Rufai has agreed to pay full restitution of $604,260 to the defrauded agencies, he has not fully cooperated with efforts to identify and forfeit assets that could be used for restitution.
At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle said, “The motivation was greed, unrestrained greed, and a callousness towards those who have suffered.”
The statement quoted U.S. Attorney Nick Brown as saying that “Mr. Rufai was relentless in his scheme to use the stolen identities of Americans for fraud. He orchestrated ‘mystery shopper’ scams, business email compromise attempts, and filed fake tax returns to financially harm individuals and businesses.
“But when disaster struck, so did Mr. Rufai. Whether it was hurricane disaster relief, small business loans, or COVID unemployment benefits, he stole aid that should have gone to disaster victims in the United States.”
It further quoted Associate Deputy Attorney-General Kevin Chambers, the Justice Department‘s Director of COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement as saying ”Abidemi Rufai chose to exploit the pandemic for personal gain, using stolen identities of Americans to support his lavish lifestyle overseas.”
According to records filed in the case, since 2017, Rufai stole the personal identifying information of more than 20,000 Americans to submit more than $2 million in claims for federally funded disaster relief benefits and fraudulent tax returns. 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 also 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. 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 totalling $6,500.
In asking for a nearly six-year prison sentence Assistant United States Attorney Cindy Chang noted that Rufai’s scheme damaged real people who needed help. “In this case, Rufai successfully used the stolen identities of at least 238 real individuals who qualified for disaster aid and may have needed it urgently. This number does not account for the number of stolen identities Rufai attempted to use but failed.”