A senior special assistant to Ogun State governor has been arrested in the United State for wire fraud, the US Department of Justice said in a statement on Monday.
Abidemi Rufai was arrested at the JFK Airport in New York on his way out of the US and has appeared before a court on May 15. He scheduled for a detention hearing on May 19.
If found guilty, Rufai may spend up to thirty years in prison since the fraud relates to benefits paid in connection with a presidentially declared disaster or emergency.
Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman accused Rufai of using an alias, Sandy Tang, to steal over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department.
“Since the first fraud reports to our office in April 2020, we have worked diligently with a federal law enforcement team to track down the criminals who stole funds designated for pandemic relief,” said Gorman. “This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud.”
The Nigerian politician, the DoJ said, stole the identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with ESD for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
Rufai replicated his fraudulent unemployment claims in 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,” the Department of Justice said in a statement. “By using this practice, Rufai made it appear that each claim was connected with a different email account.”
The proceeds of his fraudulent claims were paid out to online payment accounts such as ‘Green Dot’ accounts, or wired to bank accounts controlled by “money mules.”
Some of the proceeds were then mailed to the Jamaica, New York address of Rufai’s relative. Law enforcement determined said more than $288,000 was deposited into an American bank account controlled by Rufai between March and August 2020.
“Greed is a powerful motivator. Unfortunately, the greed alleged to this defendant affects all taxpayers,” said Donald Voiret, Special Agent in Charge FBI Seattle.
“The FBI and our partners will not stand idly by while individuals attempt to defraud programs meant to assist American workers and families suffering the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
US law enforcement agents have been tracking the activities of scammers linked to Nigeria who were exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to commit wire fraud, at least, since May 2020.
The Guardian reported in May 2020 that the United States Secret Service said in internal memo May 2020 that A “well-orchestrated” COVID-19-related fraud targeting multiple American states was traced back to Nigeria.
The memo, seen by The Guardian, was reportedly sent to Secret Service’s field offices across the US on Thursday, May 14, 2020.
The Secret Service said the fraudsters are exploring the COVID-19 pandemic to commit massive fraud against by targeting unemployment insurance programmes.
“The United States Secret Service has received reporting of a well-organized Nigerian fraud ring exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to commit large-scale fraud against state unemployment insurance programs,” the memo said.
A California-based cybersecurity firm Agari said on Tuesday, May 19, that “some if not all” of those who committed the fraud are part of a Nigerian fraud group Scattered Canary.
Although Washington State was the primary target, evidence of the fraud was seen in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Florida.
Rufai is linked to fraudulent unemployment in, at least, two of those states – Wyoming and Massachusetts.