PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday obtained the U.S. government’s court filing submitted in connection with its pending Motion for Review of Detention Order.
‘Fraudulent claims for tax refunds’
The Acting U.S. Attorney, Tessa Gorman, said special agents from the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations had been investigating Mr Rufai for several years.
Ms Gorman said Mr Rufai was being investigated for allegedly making “fraudulent claims for tax refunds”.
“On May 26 and 27, 2021, special agents from the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations notified the United States Attorney’s Office that the IRS has been investigating the email@example.com account for several years.
“IRS-CI determined that the firstname.lastname@example.org account was used to submit fraudulent claims for tax refunds using American taxpayers’ stolen PII (Personal Identification Information).
“That is, Rufai filed tax returns in the names of taxpayers, using their stolen PII, and requested that tax refunds be paid out to bank accounts under Rufai’s control,” the document stated.
He was said to have filed 652 fraudulent tax returns, seeking approximately $1.6 million in fraudulent tax refunds, for the tax years 2016 through 2019.
“IRS-CI provided the United States Attorney’s Office with information establishing that the email@example.com email account was used (employing the same ‘dot variant’ practice described in the Indictment) to file 652 fraudulent tax returns, seeking a total of approximately $1.6 million in fraudulent tax refunds, for the tax years 2016 through 2019,” the court document obtained by PREMIUM TIMES partly read.
“The IRS rejected many of the filings, but accepted returns seeking approximately $900,000. The IRS is calculating the amount of refunds actually paid out on these returns. This information increases the need for detention in several respects. First, now that the loss and attempted loss associated with Rufai’s conduct has grown substantially.
“Rufai faces an even longer prison sentence, and therefore an even stronger incentive to flee. This incentive is compounded by the fact that the Grand Jury has now returned an Indictment charging Rufai with five counts of Aggravated Identity Theft, which carries a two-year mandatory sentence consecutive to any other sentence.
“Second, the fact that Rufai filed 652 fraudulent tax returns significantly increases the scope and seriousness of Rufai’s conduct, meaning that both Rufai’s personal history and characteristics, and the nature and circumstances of his conduct weigh even more heavily in favor of detention.
“Third, the extent of Rufai’s possession and use of stolen PII, and the economic damage caused by it, establishes that Rufai presents an economic danger to the community,” Ms Gorman said.
Mr Rufai was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York while heading to Nigeria on May 14.
He allegedly used the identities of more than 100 Washington residents to steal more than $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
At the end of a detention hearing held on May 19, 2021, the Magistrate of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Ramon Reyes, agreed with the government that Mr Rufai posed “a serious flight risk”, but found that the risk could be addressed by certain conditions of release, including a $300,000 bond.
The magistrate went on to issue an order releasing Mr Rufai based on the bond in which Mr Rufai’s brother, who is licensed as an attorney in New York, was proposed as surety.
But Mr Rufai was not released eventually because his brother did not sign the bail bond. The suspect was, therefore, remanded pending when he would provide an alternate surety.
Following the refusal by Mr Rufai’s brother to stand as a surety, the defendant’s lawyer, Michael Barrows, on May 21, presented Nekpen Soyemi, a registered nurse, whose family comes from Nigeria.
Ms Soyemi was later exposed as “suspect in an investigation into an email impersonation scheme”.
Her husband, Idris Soyemi, is also said to have been convicted for wire fraud in 2014.
The U.S. government on May 24 filed an emergency motion of stay release order before the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington at Tacoma, on May 24.
The United States District Judge, Benjamin Settle, on Tuesday, granted the government’s motion to stay release of Mr Rufai.
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