THE suspended aide of Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, Abidemi Rufai, has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in a United States District Court in Tacoma.
The 45-year-old Rufai, who admitted to using stolen identities to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in pandemic-related unemployment benefits, has also agreed to pay full restitution to the defrauded agencies.
A plea agreement revealed that since 2017, Rufai unlawfully obtained the personal identifying information of about 20,000 Americans to submit more than $2 million in claims for federally funded benefits under a variety of relief programs. The various agencies involved paid out more than $600,000.
The peak of his fraud was committed against the Washington State Employment Security Department, which paid out $350,763 in fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims to accounts controlled by Abidemi Rufai.
The suspended aide who has been in custody since his arrest at New York’s JFK airport in May 2021, was also alleged to have submitted fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims in at least 17 other states and defrauded the Small Business Administration (SBA) by attempting to obtain Economic Injury Disaster loans (EIDL) tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The charge sheet alleged that between April 8, 2020, and June 26, 2020, Rufai submitted 19 fraudulent EIDL applications and the SBA paid out $10,000 based on the applications.
Between 2017 and 2020, Rufai attempted to obtain more than $1.7 million in IRS tax refunds by submitting 675 false claims. The IRS paid out $90,877 on these claims.
Rufai’s efforts to enrich himself with false disaster claims did not start with COVID-19. Investigations by the FBI revealed that in September and October 2017, he submitted 49 disaster relief claims connected to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. He also filed $24,500 in false claims and was paid on 13 claims totaling $6,500.
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 by 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 US District Judge Benjamin H. Settle, who will determine the appropriate sentence on August 15, 2022, after considering the sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.