An aide to Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State is currently enmeshed in over $350,000 (about N140 million) COVID-19 unemployment fraud in the United States.
Abidemi Rufai, who works as Senior Special Assistant to Mr Abiodun, was arrested last Friday, at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York before boarding a flight to Amsterdam.
He is scheduled for a detention hearing Wednesday.
The money wired is said to be unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department.
Wire fraud according to the United States Department of Justice is punishable by up to 30 years in prison when it relates to benefits paid in connection with a presidentially-declared disaster or emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman said in a statement that his team “worked diligently with a federal law enforcement team to track down the criminals who stole funds designated for pandemic relief since the first fraud reports to their office in April 2020″.
“This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud,” Ms Gorman said.
Mr Rufai reportedly used the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with ESD for pandemic-related unemployment benefits, the statement added.
He is also accused of filing 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,” Ms Gorman continued.
“By using this practice, Rufai made it appear that each claim was connected with 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.”
Also, the Special Agent in Charge FBI Seattle, Donald Voiret, said “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.”
PREMIUM TIMES understands 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 report on the United States Department of Justice website read.
“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).”
PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr Rufai’s principal, Governor Abiodun, on the matter but his spokesperson, Kunle Somorin, asked our reporter to call him back.
Hours later, he is yet to respond to calls and text messages.
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