By Enyichukwu Enemanna
Abidemi Rufai, a former Senior Special Assistant to the Ogun State Governor Dapo Abiodun, has bagged a five-year imprisonment in the United States for offences bordering on wire fraud.
Rufai, a 45-year-old, was arrested at JFK International Airport in New York on his way to Nigeria in May 2021 for stealing more than $500,000 in pandemic relief benefits from the United State Government.
He pleaded guilty before a District Court in Tacoma on Monday, admitting that he used stolen identities to receive more than $350,000 in pandemic-related unemployment benefits from Washington state.
Rufai during his trial apologized in a letter to the court and blamed his actions on gambling addiction and pressure to provide for his wife and children.
“My actions are outrageous and inexcusable.
“Your honour, I am now a rehabilitated man that is ready to live a crime-free life and also be a responsible man to my family and my community as a whole,” he wrote.
The trial judge, Benjamin Settle at the sentencing hearing said, “The motivation was greed, unrestrained greed, and callousness towards those who have suffered.”
The Judge however sentenced Rufai to 60 months in jail and ordered him to pay more than $600,000 in restitution.
Rufai employed a feature of Gmail, Google’s free email service, that let him use a single email account, altered by the addition of periods to the address, to file multiple unemployment claims in Washington and elsewhere using stolen Social Security numbers and other personal data.
Attorney Nick Brown in a news release said that “He (Rufai) orchestrated ‘mystery shopper’ scams, business email compromise attempts, and filed fake tax returns to financially harm individuals and businesses,
“But when disaster struck, so did Mr Rufai. Whether it was hurricane disaster relief, small business loans, or COVID unemployment benefits, he stole aid that should have gone to disaster victims in the United States,” he added
According to records filed in the case, since 2017, Rufai stole the personal identifying information of more than 20,000 Americans to submit more than $2 million in claims for federally funded disaster relief benefits and fraudulent tax returns. The various agencies involved paid out more than $600,000 to him.
Rufai’s exploit in the United States 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 totalling $6,500.
He also defrauded the Small Business Administration (SBA) by attempting to obtain Economic Injury Disaster loans (EIDL) tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Between April 8, 2020, and June 26, 2020, he submitted 19 fraudulent EIDL applications. SBA paid out $10,000 based on the applications.