Abidemi Rufai pleaded guilty to COVID-19 fraud in U.S
Abidemi Rufai, a 45-year-old resident of Lekki in Lagos, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in the United States on Tuesday, according to authorities.
Abidemi Rufai, who has been in custody since his arrest in May 2021 at JFK airport in New York, was the Special Assistant to Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State at the time.
Governor Abiodun suspended Rufai from office days after the news of his arrest broke. Rufai will face the charges against him in court.
Rufai pleaded guilty to using stolen identities to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in pandemic-related unemployment benefits during his arraignment at the United States District Court in Tacoma about a year later, according to United States Attorney Nick Brown.
According to the plea agreement, Rufai unlawfully obtained the personal identifying information of over 20,000 Americans in order to submit over $2 million in claims for federally funded benefits under a variety of relief programmes, with the various agencies involved paying out over $600,000.
According to a statement from the US Department of Justice, “the largest amount of fraud was committed against the Washington State Employment Security Department, which paid out $350,763 in fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims to accounts controlled by Rufai.” “Rufai also filed false pandemic unemployment claims in at least 17 other states,” according to the report.
“Rufai also defrauded the Small Business Administration (SBA) by attempting to obtain EIDLs tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. He submitted 19 fraudulent EIDL applications between April 8, 2020, and June 26, 2020. The Small Business Administration (SBA) awarded $10,000 based on the applications.”
Rufai allegedly attempted to obtain more than $1.7 million in IRS tax refunds by filing 675 false claims between 2017 and 2020, for which the IRS paid out $90,877, according to US authorities.
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It went on to say that the defendant’s efforts to enrich himself through false disaster claims did not begin with COVID-19, as he had submitted 49 disaster relief claims in September and October 2017 in connection with Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.
Rufai was also accused of filing $24,500 in false claims and receiving payment on 13 of them totaling $6,500.
The statement continued, “Rufai has agreed to pay full restitution to the defrauded agencies.” “Wire fraud in connection with a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency can result in a sentence of up to 30 years in prison.” Following any prison term imposed on another charge, aggravated identity theft is punishable by two years in prison.
“Prosecutors have agreed that no more than 71 months in prison should be recommended.” The recommendation has no bearing on U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle, who will decide on the appropriate sentence on August 15, 2022, after taking into account the sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.”
The FBI investigated the case with help from the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, and the United States Small Business Administration’s Office of Inspector General, according to authorities, while the Washington Employment Security Department is cooperating with the investigation.
Assistant United States Attorneys Seth Wilkinson and Cindy Chang of the Western District of Washington are prosecuting the case.
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