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Nigerian indicted for unemployment fraud attempted to steal $900, 000 tax returns – IRS

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A Nigerian national Abidemi Rufai, who was arrested in the United States and charged with  aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, also sought to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of nearly $1.6 million, federal prosecutors said Friday.

Prior to his arrest on May 14, Rufai, an aide to Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, had been under investigation by the IRS for years, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

The indictment in a case jointly investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG), alleges that Rufai, now suspended by Ogun State governor, used the identities of more than 100 Washington residents to steal over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Employment Security Department (ESD). 

On Friday, federal prosecutors alleged that Rufai filed 652 fraudulent tax returns on behalf of taxpayers whose identities he had stolen. He nearly netted $900,000, but many of the returns were rejected by the IRS.

Prosecutors on Wednesday asked U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle to order Rufai detained and transported to the Western District of Washington for arraignment on the indictment. New discoveries of his attempt to defraud the IRS would make it harder to consider his application for bail.  He would likely remain in custody until trial. 

“Now that the loss and attempted loss associated with Rufai’s conduct has grown substantially, Rufai faces an even longer prison sentence, and therefore an even stronger incentive to flee,” the new filing said. 

Rufai is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, nine counts of wire fraud and five counts of aggravated identity theft. He was alleged to have used variations of a single e-mail address in a manner intended to evade automatic detection by fraud systems.  

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“By using this practice, Rufai made it appear that each claim was connected with a different email account,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. 

He also 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  Jamaica and New York address of Rufai’s brother.  

Rufai was residing at his brother’s home during part of the period of the fraud.  Law enforcement determined more than $288,000 was deposited into an American bank account controlled by Rufai between March and August 2020.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office noted that the charges contained in the indictment were only allegations and that a person was presumed innocent unless and until he or she was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Seth Wilkinson, Cindy Chang, and Benjamin Diggs of the Western District of Washington, and Trial Attorney Jane Lee of DOJ’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS).

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