Abidemi Rufai, a suspended aide of Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, has asked a U.S. Court to restore the suspended bail earlier granted him in the pending $350,000 fraud charges instituted against him.
He was granted bail by a District Court of Eastern New York on May 21 but the release order was stayed by the District Court of Western Washington at Tacoma on May 25, following the prosecution’s appeal for a review.
The U.S. authorities asked for a total reversal of the release order in their appeal. They argued he was not deserving of being released on bail.
But responding to the appeal, Mr Rufai’s lawyer, Lance Hester, told the court in Tacoma that his client’s case was not one designated for “mandatory detention” as it “is not a crime of violence.”
“Mr Rufai’s case is not one of presumed detention. Mr Rufai is charged with wire fraud. District Courts across this County have held that wire fraud is not the type of crime designated for mandatory detention because, ‘Wire Fraud is not a crime of violence. It is not a crime that concerns a controlled substance, and is not a crime that involves minors’,” Mr Hester argued in his court filing obtained by PREMIUM TIMES Thursday.
The reply was filed on June 1, 2021.
Entitled to ‘pretrial release’
According to the defence lawyer, a judge must order “the pretrial release” of a person on personal recognisance or the execution of an unsecured appearance bond, subject to conditions set by the court.
He added that the only exception that prohibits the release of such defendants is when the judge determines that the person’s pretrial release “will not reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required or will endanger the safety of any other person or the community.”
While the lawyer agreed that the government is entitled to counter his client’s release, it (the government) must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant, if released, presents an actual risk of flight.
Mr Hester added, “Because the government does not appear to be addressing ‘dangerousness’ related to Mr Rufai, the defence does not, at this time, find it necessary to fully address the issue, except to mention, if somehow it becomes an issue, the government must prove.
“Moreover, with respect to economic crimes such as those charged against Mr Rufai, the government must proffer more than the fact of a serious economic crime that generated great sums of ill-gotten gains. Merely having access to significant funds is not enough.
“It is respectfully submitted that the government has failed to carry out its dual burden in establishing, (i) that Mr Rufai is a flight risk or a danger and, (ii) most importantly, that there are no conditions which will ensure his future appearance in court.
“The nature and circumstances of Mr Rufai’s alleged offense favor his release. The Federal Bail Reform Statute suggests that a defendant presents a greater risk of flight if he is indicted for crimes of violence, terrorism, and those that involve a minor victim, a controlled substance, firearms, explosives, or other destructive devices.
“Mr Rufai is not accused of any such offenses. Rather, Mr. Rufai allegedly submitted fraudulent FEMA disaster relief claims and fraudulent submissions to the IRS. Such a crime, while serious, is not indicative of a disrespect for judicial authority or a cavalier attitude towards the reach of law enforcement such that Mr Rufai cannot be trusted to appear.”
Mr Hester also argued that the government’s position that Mr Rufau has a negative past does not hold water.
“This accusation, upon scrutiny, does not merit pretrial detention. There is no evidence that Mr Rufai was seeking to exit the county to avoid arrest. In fact, the government concedes Mr Rufai ‘prepared to board a flight’ ‘before he knew he faced federal felony charges.’
“Thus, there is absolutely no correlation between the Indictment and Mr Rufai’s decision to leave the country to return home to his wife and two young children. Nor was Mr Rufai under any obligation to inform the government of his intent to travel back to Nigeria at the time he was arrested.
“In sum, the government’s claim that Mr Rufai was seeking to board a plane when he was apprehended for the crimes alleged in the criminal prosecution fails to clear the statutory hurdle requiring the government to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, both that Mr Rufai is a flight risk, and that there are no conditions of release under which Mr. Rufai will appear before this Court.
“Restated, Mr Rufai’s conduct in boarding a flight years after he allegedly first began committing a crime in the United States in 2017 is not indicative, as the government would ask this Court to believe, of a predisposition to flee the country. If anything, it demonstrates that he desired to return home to see his family.”
The defence lawyer said it was stated in the Pretrial Services Report that a criminal record check conducted through the National Crime Information Center state and local records “revealed no criminal history for the defendant.”
“Once again, militating in favor of pretrial release. It is further submitted that Mr Rufai’s status as Nigerian National should not weigh heavily in favor of pretrial detention but rather, militate in favor of pretrial release. As the government concedes, Mr. Rufai holds a distinguished Governmental position in his home.
“It goes without saying that only an individual of high moral character and integrity could achieve such a distinguished governmental appointment,” the lawyer said.
Mr Rufai’s lawyer concluded that the government has failed to establish the necessary elements to warrant pretrial detention, particularly, that there are no conditions or combination of conditions which will ensure his appearance in court.
“Both electronic monitoring, a specific residence, and reporting are all conditions that will ensure his whereabouts and movements are both restricted and known to the government at all times. As such, it is respectfully requested that Mr. Rufai’s request for release be granted upon the conditions outlined in the pretrial services report and upon any additional conditions which this Court deems just and appropriate.”
Mr Rufai was nabbed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York while heading to Nigeria on May 14.
He was said to have 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 Judge (an assistant of a district judge) 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 conditions of release, including a $300,000 bond.
The magistrate judge 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.
He was not released because his brother did not sign the bail bond. The suspect was then remanded pending when he would provide an alternate surety.
Following the refusal of 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.
The U.S. later exposed her as a “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.
While Mr Rufai was struggling to produce a surety, 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 25, the judge, Benjamin Settle, granted the government’s motion to stay order for the release of Mr Rufai, even as the U.S.government uncovered more criminal activities involving the suspect.
A federal grand jury ratified the charges involving conspiracy, wire fraud and “aggravated identity theft.”
A grand jury in the U.S. is a group of citizens empowered by law to conduct legal proceedings, investigate potential criminal conduct, and determine whether criminal charges should be brought.
This newspaper reported that nine counts of wire fraud and five counts of aggravated identity theft were ratified by the grand jury against Mr Rufai.
He is to be arraigned on fraud charges before a United States Courthouse, in Tacoma, Washington, on June 8, 2021.
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