A United States district court has sentenced Abidemi Rufai, a suspended aide of Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, to five years’ imprisonment for fraud.
The District Court in Western Tacoma in Washington jailed Mr Rufai on Monday, September 26, 2022, for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
With the stolen identities, he attempted to steal nearly $2.4 million from the United States government, including approximately $500,000 in pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
Rufai, 45, who pleaded guilty to the charges in May, was said to have succeeded in defrauding 12 US agencies of $600,000 paid out into bank accounts controlled by him.
A statement by the US Department of Justice announced the sentencing of Mr Rufai on Monday.
“The motivation was greed, unrestrained greed, and a callousness towards those who have suffered,” the statement quoted the trial judge, Benjamin H. Settle, as saying.
Based on his plea agreement with the prosecution, Mr Rufai agreed to pay full restitution of $604,260 to the defrauded agencies.
But the Department of Justice’s statement said he “has not fully cooperated with efforts to identify and forfeit assets that could be used for restitution.”
In asking for a nearly six-year prison sentence Assistant United States Attorney Cindy Chang noted that Rufai’s scheme damaged real people who needed help.
Seattle Field Office Special Agent in Charge, Bret Kressin, quoted Mr Rufai as saying, ‘The choices we make are ultimately our responsibility”.
The Special Agent said, “and he is correct.” “This sentence is a result of the culmination of choices he made funding his luxurious lifestyle.”
He added, “His fraud schemes began with filing fraudulent tax returns from stolen identities to pilfering economic aid designed to help disadvantaged workers and families suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The prosecution said since 2017, Mr 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 ended up paying out more than $600,000 into bank accounts controlled by Mr Rufai as of the time of his arrest last year, the prosecution stated.
An exclusive report by PREMIUM TIMES listed the 12 agencies of the US government that paid out the $600,000.
This newspaper reported in May this year how he pleaded guilty to the alleged crimes.
Mr Rufai, who has been in custody since his arrest at New York’s JFK airport in May 2021, admitted using stolen identities to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
He admitted a long history of using stolen identities to defraud U.S. disaster programs, including aid for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and file fraudulent U.S. tax returns.
Of the 12 agencies allegedly defrauded by Mr Rufai, the Washington State Employment Security Department was said to have been hardest hit with $350,763 paid out by the agency as fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims to accounts controlled by Mr Rufai.
The prosecution says evidence to be produced at the hearing shows that Mr Rufai “participated in the submission of fraudulent claims seeking in excess of $2 million in federally-funded unemployment assistance”.
He was said to have also “submitted claims to the IRS seeking more than 675 refunds totalling more than $1.7 million, and submitted at least 19 fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster Loan, EIDL, applications.”
He also, according to the prosecution, “submitted 49 fraudulent disaster claims to FEMA, and personally obtained proceeds from his wire fraud scheme.”
On May 26, 2021, a grand jury approved an indictment charging the defendant with 15 offences.
The charges filed at U.S. District Court for Western Washington at Tacoma, comprise conspiracy to commit wire fraud, nine counts of wire fraud, and five counts of aggravated identity theft.
He was arraigned before the court on 25 June, 2021 when he denied the charges by pleading not guilty to all counts.
Premium Times reported how, in preparation for trial, the United States government had submitted a 97,000-page material in court as part of the evidence to be used against the defendant.
“Discovery, in this case, is voluminous and complex,” the prosecution and the defence said in the document they jointly filed to ask for the postponement of the trial date that was then scheduled for 31 August 2021.
The trial was postponed on different occasions while Mr Rufai remains in detention.
After his initial denial of the charges, the defendant admitted his guilt in the plea agreement filed in the court in May.