Nigerian extradited over attempt to steal $25 million in US benefits

A Nigerian national living in Canada, Sakiru Olanrewaju Ambali has been extradited to the United States of America, after being accused of defrauding the pandemic unemployment benefit programme in some states in the United States of America.

This was disclosed in a statement by the United States of America’s Attorney’s Office published on Friday, August 18, 2023.

According to the statement, Ambali, 45, was arrested in February 2023 in Frankfurt, Germany, as he travelled back to Canada from Nigeria and had been detained in Germany pending extradition.

It stated that the suspect made his initial appearance in the United States of America’s District Court, in Tacoma, on Friday, after arriving in the Western District of Washington Thursday.

Ambali and one Fatiu Ismaila Lawal had earlier been accused of using the stolen identities of thousands of Americans to submit over 1,700 claims for pandemic unemployment benefits to over 25 states, including Washington state.

It was alleged that both used stolen personal details from numerous US taxpayers and residents to submit deceitful claims for COVID-19 pandemic aid and fabricated tax returns aiming for refunds.

“In total, the claims sought approximately $25 million, but the conspirators obtained approximately $2.4 million, primarily from pandemic unemployment benefits,” the statement read in part.

They also purportedly lodged claims for pandemic unemployment benefits in excess of 25 states, encompassing key regions like New York, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, California, and Washington.

The duo were accused of submitting over 2,300 counterfeit income tax returns, seeking refunds exceeding $7.1 million. However, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) detected a significant portion of these fraudulent claims, resulting in only approximately $30,000 being disbursed as fraudulent refunds.

Part of the statement read, “The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

    “Lawal remains in Canada, pending extradition. The conspiracy and wire fraud counts are punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

    “The National Unemployment Fraud Task Force provided a lead on this case to the investigative team in Western Washington.

    “The case was investigated by the FBI with assistance from the United States of America’s Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG). Also contributing to the investigation were Washington State Employment Security Division (ESD), the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), and the Small Business Administration (SBA).”

    “The case is reportedly being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Cindy Chang and Seth Wilkinson of the Western District of Washington, while the DOJ’s Office of International Affairs is said to be assisting.”

    Nurudeen Akewushola is an investigative reporter and fact-checker with The ICIR. He believes courageous in-depth investigative reporting is the key to social justice, accountability and good governance in the society. You can shoot him a scoop via [email protected] and @NurudeenAkewus1 on Twitter.

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