In a federal court in Tacoma, Abidemi Rufai, a suspended adviser to Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun state, pled guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Rufai, 45, has been in detention since his arrest in May 2021 at JFK airport in New York, where he acknowledged using stolen identities to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
According to a plea deal, Abidemi Rufai illegally stole the personal identifying information of more than 20,000 Americans between 2017 and 2018 in order to file more than $2 million in claims for federally funded benefits under various relief programs. More than $600,000 was paid out by the different authorities involved.
The Washington State Employment Security Department, which paid out $350,763 in fake pandemic unemployment claims to accounts controlled by Abidemi Rufai, was the epicenter of his deception.
In addition, the Nigerian filed false pandemic unemployment claims in at least 17 other states.
Rufai also attempted to receive Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) connected to the COVID-19 outbreak from the Small Business Administration (SBA). He submitted 19 fraudulent EIDL applications between April 8, 2020, and June 26, 2020. Based on the applications, the SBA awarded $10,000.
Rufai attempted to obtain more than $1.7 million in IRS tax refunds by filing 675 false claims between 2017 and 2020. On these claims, the IRS paid out $90,877.
COVID-19 was not the start of Rufai’s efforts to benefit himself through fake disaster claims. He filed 49 disaster assistance applications in September and October 2017 in response to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. He filed $24,500 in false claims and was paid $6,500 on 13 of them. Rufai has committed to compensate the duped agencies in full.
Wire fraud in the context of a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail. Following any prison term issued on another offence, aggravated identity theft is punishable by two years in prison.
Prosecutors have agreed that no more than 71 months in prison should be recommended. The suggestion will not bind U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle, who will decide on the appropriate sentence on August 15, 2022, after taking into account the sentencing guidelines and other statutory circumstances.
The FBI investigated Rufai’s case with the help of the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, and the Small Business Administration’s Office of Inspector General. The investigation is being assisted by the Washington Employment Security Department.
Assistant United States Attorneys Seth Wilkinson and Cindy Chang of the Western District of Washington are prosecuting the case.