A Senior Special Assistant to the Ogun State Governor, Abidemi Rufai, faces up to 30 years in prison if he is convicted of wire fraud.
According to the United States Department of Justice, wire fraud is punishable by up to 30 years in prison when it relates to benefits paid in connection with a presidentially-declared disaster or emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rufai, who served as the Deputy Director-General of the Dapo Abiodun Campaign Organisation in the last governorship election in the state, was arrested on Friday at the JFK Airport in New York, United States of America, on a criminal complaint of wire fraud for his scheme to steal over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department, the acting US Attorney, Tessa M. Gorman, announced.
Rufai, aka Sandy Tang, 42, of Lekki, Lagos, made his initial appearance in court on Saturday May 15, 2021, in New York. He is scheduled for a detention hearing on Wednesday.
“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. This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of the ESD fraud,” Gorman said.
The criminal complaint alleges that Rufai used the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with the ESD for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
He was alleged to have also filed fraudulent unemployment claims with Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York and Pennsylvania, and used variations of a single e-mail address in a manner intended to evade automatic detection by fraud systems.
By using this practice, Rufai allegedly made it appear that each claim was connected with a different email account.
The US Department of Justice stated on its website 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’. Some of the proceeds were then mailed to the Jamaica, New York address of Rufai’s relative.
Law enforcement determined that 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 of the Federal Bureau of Investigations in Seattle.
“The FBI and our partners will not stand idly by while individuals attempt to defraud programmes meant to assist American workers and families suffering the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.
The governor, in his reaction, described the arrest as disturbing news, and ordered the immediate suspension of Rufai.
Abiodun, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Kunle Somorin, ordered the immediate suspension of Rufai, who is his close ally, in view of the gravity of the allegations.
The statement read, “The Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, has received the very disturbing news of the arrest of one of his political appointees, Mr Abidemi Rufai, in New York over alleged unemployment benefits fraud in the United States.
“In view of the gravity of these allegations, the governor has ordered the immediate suspension of the accused appointee. We will not condone any act bordering on criminality by anyone.”
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party in Ogun State has described Rufai’s arrest as an embarrassment.
The Chairman of the PDP in the state, Sikitullah Ogundele, said this in an interview with PUNCH Metro on Tuesday.
He said the arrest of Rufai showed that people of questionable characters were in the political system.
Ogundele stated, “People of questionable character should be kept away from our system. It is unfortunate that the governor of Ogun State has chosen somebody of questionable character and it is an embarrassment to the entire state.
“It is not the fault of the person that appointed him, but personalities must be well vetted before they are given appointments.”