Abidemi Rufai, a suspended aide of Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, has now been charged with alleged conspiracy and wire fraud in a Unites States (U.S.) court.
Acting Attorney, Tessa Gorman, disclosed in a statement seen by PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday that the charges are before the Western District Court of Washington at Tacoma.
The statement said a federal grand jury has ratified the charges involving “aggravated identity theft”, a scheme he allegedly used “to steal over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department.”
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.
In total, nine counts of wire fraud and five counts of aggravated identity theft were ratified by the grand jury against the defendant.
Mr Rufai is expected to remain in detention at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, for now.
But the acting attorney said, “prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle to order Rufai detained and transported to the Western District of Washington for arraignment on the indictment.”
“The indictment alleges that Rufai used the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with ESD for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
“Rufai also filed 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. By using this practice, Rufai made it appear that each claim was connected with a different email account,” part of the statement seen also read.
The prosecutors alleged that “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’.”
According to the government, some of the proceeds were mailed to the Jamaica, New York address of Rufai’s brother.
Mr Rufai was also said to be residing at his brother’s home during part of the period of the fraud.
“Law enforcement determined more than $288,000 was deposited into an American bank account controlled by Rufai between March and August 2020,” the U.S. attorney added.
Ms Gorman further said conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud are punishable by up to 30 years in prison when the offence relates to benefits paid in connection with a presidentially-declared disaster or emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
She added that aggravated identity theft is punishable by a mandatory minimum two-year sentence to run consecutive to any sentence imposed on the other counts of conviction.
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 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 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.
Justice Benjamin Settle, on Tuesday, granted the government’s motion to stay the release of Mr Rufai as U.S. uncovered more criminal activities involving the suspect.
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