In a federal court in Tacoma, Abidemi Rufai, a suspended adviser to Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun state, pled guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Rufai, 45, has been in detention since his arrest in May 2021 at JFK airport in New York, where he acknowledged to using stolen identities to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
According to a plea deal, Abidemi Rufai illegally stole the personal identifying information of more than 20,000 Americans between 2017 and 2018 in order to file more than $2 million in claims for federally funded benefits under various relief programs. More than $600,000 was paid out by the different authorities involved.
The Washington State Employment Security Department, which paid out $350,763 in fake pandemic unemployment claims to accounts controlled by Abidemi Rufai, was the epicenter of his deception.
In addition, the Nigerian filed false pandemic unemployment claims in at least 17 other states.
Rufai also attempted to receive Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) connected to the COVID-19 outbreak from the Small Business Administration (SBA). He submitted 19 fake EIDL applications between April 8, 2020, and June 26, 2020. Based on the applications, the SBA awarded $10,000.
Rufai attempted to get more than $1.7 million in IRS tax refunds by filing 675 fake claims between 2017 and 2020. On these claims, the IRS paid out $90,877.
Rufai’s efforts to enrich himself with false disaster claims did not start with COVID-19. In September and October 2017, he submitted 49 disaster relief claims connected to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. He filed $24,500 in false claims and was paid on 13 claims totaling $6,500.
Rufai has agreed to pay full restitution to the defrauded agencies.
Wire fraud in relation to a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Aggravated identity theft is punishable two years in prison to follow any prison term imposed on another charge. Prosecutors have agreed to recommend no more than 71 months in prison. The recommendation is not binding on U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle, who will determine the appropriate sentence on August 15, 2022, after considering the sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
Rufai’s case was investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, and the United States Small Business Administration Office of the Inspector General. The Washington Employment Security Department is cooperating in the investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Seth Wilkinson and Cindy Chang of the Western District of Washington.