Abidemi Rufai, the suspended aide to Ogun State Governor Dayo Abiodun, was given a five-year jail term for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft by a district court in Western Tacoma, Washington, in the United States.
In a statement released on Monday, Western District of Washington US Attorney Nick Brown claimed that Rufai had stolen the personal data of over 20,000 Americans in order to commit a number of online scams.
The statement read in part, “A 45-year-old resident of Lekki, Nigeria, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to five years in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for his attempt to steal nearly $2.4m from the United States government, including approximately $500,000 in pandemic-related unemployment benefits.”
The statement said Rufai admitted a long history of using stolen identities to defraud US disaster programmes, including aid for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and filing fraudulent US tax returns.
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At the sentencing, US District Judge, Benjamin Settle, said the motivation was “unrestrained greed, and callousness towards those who have suffered.”
“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,” Brown added.
The Associate Deputy Attorney-General, Kevin Chambers, the Justice Department‘s Director of COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement, said, “Abidemi Rufai chose to exploit the pandemic for personal gain, using stolen identities of Americans to support his lavish lifestyle overseas.
“The US Attorney’s Office and their law enforcement partners did exceptional work bringing this defendant to justice. The department will continue to pursue fraudsters who abuse these programmes and seek to recover their ill-gotten gains, whether they are in the United States or overseas.”
According to records filed in the case, since 2017, Rufai submitted more than $2m 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,” the Commissioner for the Employment Security Department, Cami Feek, said in the statement.
Contacted, the Ogun State Commissioner for Information, Abdulwaheed Odusile, said the court had taken its decision.
He said, “It is a matter for the court and the court has taken its decision. There is no official comment from the government.”