Former Nigeria Government officer arrested for fraud in US, sentenced 5 years

A former official of the Nigerian Government was sentenced to five years in Prison for stealing a sum of more than $500,000 in the name of pandemic relief benefits in the United States.Nige

Nigeria: A former official of the Nigerian Government was sentenced to five years in Prison for stealing a sum of more than $500,000 in the name of pandemic relief benefits in the United States.

The Culprit, Abidemi Rufai was wearing a $10,000 watch and $35,000 gold chain at the time of his arrest. He was arrested at JFK International Airport, New York while he was travelling to Nigeria in May 2021.

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The former official of the Nigerian Government pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington. He was held under the charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Judge Benjamin Settle issued the sentence Monday, September 26, 2022. Further, the judge also ordered Rufai to pay more than $600,000 in the way of restitution.

Prosecutors said the 45-year-old culprit has a history of defrauding the U.S. government by various means and methods, including using stolen identities to file for emergency relief after hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

“When disaster struck, so did Rufai,” Nick Brown, Seattle U.S. Attorney, said in a news release. He added, “Whether it was hurricane disaster relief, small business loans, or COVID unemployment benefits, he stole aid which should have gone to disaster victims in the United States.

According to the inspector-general of the U.S. Labor Department, such fraud was rampant in pandemic relief programs.

According to the prosecutors, Rufai, of Lekki, Nigeria, has a master’s degree and is politically connected in his home country. He was believed to be running a sports betting company since 2016, his finances were opaque, and his primary source of income was defrauding the gocvernment of the United States.

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He was renowned as a prolific political fundraiser, and in 2019, he ran unsuccessfully for Nigeria’s National Assembly, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cindy Chang and Seth Wilkinson wrote in a sentencing memo.

Between April and October 2020, he used a hoard of stolen identities to file for pandemic-related benefits. Investigators found more than 20,000 of them, with birthdates and social security numbers in one of his email accounts.

The culprit applied to the workforce agencies of at least nine states, including Washington’s Employment Security Department, in the names of at least 224 Americans.

Just after returning to Nigeria in August 2020, Rufai was appointed as a special aide to the governor of Nigeria’s Ogun State. He was featured in news magazines, photographed with a luxury Mercedes sport-utility vehicle he had purchased with stolen funds and had shipped to Nigeria.

Rufai returned to the U.S. on May 15, 2021, only a day after prosecutors filed an amended complaint against him. The was arrested trying to leave the United States on a business class flight. In recorded phone conversations from jail, prosecutors said he discussed moving a large amount of money following his arrest.

Rufai apologized in a letter to the court, saying, “my actions are outrageous and inexcusable.” He blamed these actions on gambling addiction and pressure to provide for his wife and children.

“Your honour, I am now a rehabilitated man ready to live a crime-free life and also be a responsible man to my family and my community as a whole,” he wrote.

The defence requested a 2.5-year sentence, citing letters from supporters who wrote that Rufai had a charitable foundation that helped pay educational fees for primary students. The Justice Department sought nearly six years, saying a longer term was necessary to deter others who might commit similar crimes.

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