The Acting U.S. Attorney, Tessa Gorma, in documents filed at a United States Courthouse, in Tacoma, Washington, on June 23, said Mr Rufai “knowingly participated in a fraudulent surety scheme to mislead the court”.
The U.S. government said it received a transcript of a recorded call between Mr Rufai and his brother on May 25, four days after a hearing on his detention.
Mr Rufai was desperately looking for a person to stand surety for a $300,000 bail bond earlier granted him by a magistrate’s court.
He could not find a suitable surety before the U.S. government was able to obtain another court order suspending the magistrate’s release order.
“It is evident from the recording that the defence’s presentation of the surety as a friend of Rufai was false, and that, in fact, Rufai does not even know the surety. In the call, Rufai’s brother states that ‘they found a lady to set up the bail’.”
According to the call record, Mr Rufai reportedly “asked if the surety’s husband is in New York or Nigeria. The brother responded that ‘her husband is here in New York’. Rufai and his brother then discussed the fact that the surety might withdraw because of pressure on her family in Nigeria resulting from publicity about the case.
“They discussed the possibility of obtaining another surety. Rufai stated: Whoever you can get, I don’t know, do you understand? No matter how it is, I will pay the money. Do you understand? Just leave that alone. I will pay the money… The money is available. You don’t have to be afraid of that,” part of the new accusation against Mr Rufai read.
The U.S. government said that it is evident from the call that Mr Rufai knowingly participated in the alleged scheme to mislead the court.
“Rufai was present when the surety gave testimony that led the magistrate judge to believe she and Rufai knew one another well enough for her to be a suitable surety and third-party custodian.
“In fact, Rufai did not even know ‘the lady’ and did not know basic biographical information about her. The recording also makes clear that Rufai has significant assets (at least enough to cover a $300,000 bond), which he is willing to use, however, he can to secure his own release.
“This is contrary to his statement to Pretrial Services in New York that his only asset is $6,000 in the United States and $10,000 in Nigerian checking and savings account. And, the recording shows that Rufai and his brother conspired to set up a replacement sham surety to buy Rufai’s release.
“The provision of false information to the court and Pretrial Services ‘indicates a willingness by the defendant to obstruct the criminal justice process’, and should be considered in evaluating detention because it bears on the defendant’s character.
“This new information, together with that previously provided, makes clear that defendant presents an extreme flight risk who cannot be expected to observe conditions of release or appear for court. The court should revoke the release order.”
Mr Rufai was arrested 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 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 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.
Mr Rufai 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.
Now, U.S. findings have further shown that Mr Rufai planted the surety and they never knew each other before now.
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. The court granted the government’s motion as the U.S. uncovered more criminal activities involving the suspect.
A federal grand jury in late May ratified the charges involving conspiracy, wire fraud and “aggravated identity theft” against Mr Rufai.
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