SUSPENDED aide to the Governor of Ogun State Abidemi Rufai, arrested by United States police on May 14 at JFK Airport in New York, is now indicted for conspiracy, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
In a statement released on Saturday, the US Attorney’s Office said Rufai was now charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, as well as nine counts of wire fraud and five counts of aggravated identity theft.
The indictment alleges that Rufai used the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with the Employment Security Department (ESD) for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
Acting US Attorney Tessa M. Gorman said Rufai filed fraudulent unemployment claims with Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania, using variations of a single email address in a manner intended to evade automatic detection by fraud systems.
By using this method, Rufai made it appear that each claim was connected with a different email account and was able to steal over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State ESD.
“Rufai 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’,” the US Attorney’s Office said.
Some of the proceeds were allegedly mailed to the Jamaica, 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 agents have established that more than $288,000 was deposited into an American bank account controlled by Rufai between March and August 2020.
However, Rufai’s lawyer Michael Barrows has described the additional charges as ‘pure fiction, self-serving and unsupported.’ He accused the government of acting desperately to keep Rufai incarcerated pending his trial.
In another development, an information technology worker Chukwuemeka Onyegbula, who works for Pan Ocean Oil Corporation Nigeria Limited, has been detained in Nigeria after he was indicted for wire fraud and identity theft charges.
Using the pseudo name ‘Phillip Carter,’ Onyegbula and his co-conspirators allegedly filed false claims for pandemic-related unemployment benefits in 17 states and has so far been linked to at least 253 fraudulent filings for unemployment benefits.
It was gathered that Washington, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Nevada, Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin paid out a total of nearly $290,000 on claims related to the case.
Additionally, the Federal Small Business Administration paid out $54,000 in COVID-19 economic disaster claims filed by Onyegbula and his co-conspirators, prosecutors said on Thursday in Seattle.
It is not immediately clear whether both cases are related.
Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud are punishable by up to thirty years in prison when the offense relates to benefits paid in connection with a presidentially-declared disaster or emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aggravated identity theft is punishable by a mandatory minimum two year sentence to run consecutive to any sentence imposed on the other counts of conviction.