Nigerian State Official Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison for Stealing US Disaster Aid and Taxpayer Refunds | USAO-WDWA
Tacoma – A 45-year-old resident of Lekki, Nigeria was sentenced today in the U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 5 years in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for attempting to steal near $2.4 million to the United States government, including about $500,000 in pandemic-related unemployment benefits, U.S. Attorney Nick Brown announced. At the time of his arrest, Abidermi Rufai was the Special Assistant to the Governor of Ogun State in Nigeria. He admitted to a long history of using stolen identities to defraud US disaster programs, including hurricane Harvey and Irma relief, and file fraudulent US tax returns. During the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle said, “The motivation was greed, unbridled greed and callousness toward those who suffered.
“Mr. Rufai was relentless in his scheme to use the stolen identities of Americans for fraudulent purposes,” said U.S. attorney Nick Brown. emails and filed false tax returns to harm individuals and businesses financially. But when disaster struck, Mr. Rufai did the same. Whether it was disaster relief, loans to small businesses or COVID unemployment benefits, he stole aid that should have gone to disaster victims in the United States.
“Abdemi Rufai has chosen to exploit the pandemic for personal gain, using stolen identities of Americans to support his lavish lifestyle abroad,” said Assistant Deputy Attorney General Kevin Chambers, Director of fight against COVID-19 fraud at the Ministry of Justice. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and their law enforcement partners have done an exceptional job bringing this defendant to justice. The Department will continue to pursue fraudsters who abused these programs and will seek to recover their ill-gotten gains, whether in the United States or abroad.
According to records filed in the case, since 2017 Rufai has stolen 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 organizations involved disbursed more than $600,000.
The largest number of frauds was committed against the Washington State Department of Employment Security, which paid out $350,763 in fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims to accounts controlled by Rufai. Rufai has also submitted fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims in at least 17 other states.
“The Department of Employment Security deeply appreciates the tireless efforts of the Department of Justice, federal agencies, and law enforcement in this matter,” said Cami Feek, Commissioner of the Department of Employment Security. use. “We always stand ready to hold accountable those who steal public funds and we appreciate the partnership in catching and prosecuting this individual.”
Rufai also defrauded the Small Business Administration (SBA) while attempting to obtain Economic Disaster Loans (EIDLs) related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Between April 8, 2020 and June 26, 2020, he submitted 19 fraudulent EIDL applications. The SBA paid out $10,000 based on the applications.
Between 2017 and 2020, Rufai attempted to obtain over $1.7 million in IRS tax refunds by submitting 675 false returns. The IRS paid $90,877 on those claims.
Rufai’s efforts to exploit disaster in the United States did not begin with COVID-19. In September and October 2017, it submitted 49 disaster relief requests related to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. He filed $24,500 in false claims and was paid on 13 claims totaling $6,500.
Asking for a nearly six-year prison sentence, Assistant United States Attorney Cindy Chang noted that Rufai’s scheme had harmed real people who needed help. “In this case, Rufai successfully used the stolen identities of at least 238 real people who qualified for disaster relief and may need it urgently. This number does not take into account the number of stolen identities that Rufai attempted to use but failed.
Rufai has agreed to pay full restitution of $604,260 to the defrauded agencies, but he has not fully cooperated with efforts to identify and confiscate assets that could be used for restitution.
“Mr. Rufai did not care whether the disaster was the pandemic or a hurricane, or whether the victim was a hard-working American taxpayer, a small business, or the American government,” said Special Agent Richard A. Collodi. in charge of the FBI field office in Seattle. “He could have used his influence to be a role model in his community. Instead, he stole the identities of Washington State residents and money intended for people in need.”
“Mr. Rufai said, ‘The choices we make are ultimately our responsibility’, and he is right. This sentence is the result of the culmination of choices he made to fund his luxurious lifestyle. His fraud schemes began with filing fraudulent tax returns from stolen identities to steal economic aid designed to help disadvantaged workers and families suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agent said. Seattle Field Office Special Manager Bret Kressin “IRS-CI continues to provide our financial expertise to investigate large-scale fraud with our law enforcement partners.”
“Rufai used the stolen personal identifying information of thousands of Americans to defraud over $600,000 in government benefits, including approximately $350,000 from the Washington Department of Employment Security. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to aggressively investigate and prosecute those who defrauded unemployment insurance programs during the global health crisis,” said Quentin Heiden, Special Agent in Charge of the Department. American Labor, Office of Inspector General, Los Angeles Area.
Abidemi Rufai has been in custody since his arrest at JFK airport in New York in May 2021. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York participated in detention hearings following Rufai’s arrest.
This matter was investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Labor, Criminal Investigations of the Internal Revenue Service, Office of Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Inspector General of the United States Small Business Administration. Washington Department of Employment Security (ESD).
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Cindy Chang and Seth Wilkinson of the Western District of Washington.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to mobilize Department of Justice resources in partnership with government agencies to scale up enforcement and prevention efforts. pandemic-related fraud. The task force strengthens efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies administering relief programs to prevent fraud by augmenting and integrating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and by sharing and leveraging information and knowledge gained from previous enforcement efforts. For more information about the department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about alleged attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline through the NCDF’s online complaint form at address https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud /formulaire-de-plainte-en cas-de-catastrophe-ncdf.