Ex-Nigerian official gets 5 years for pandemic fraud in US

Sep 26, 2022, 5:18 PM | Updated: 5:26 pm

SEATTLE (AP) — A former Nigerian government official was sentenced Monday to five years in prison for stealing more than $500,000 in pandemic relief benefits in the United States.

Abidemi Rufai was wearing a $10,000 watch and $35,000 gold chain when he was arrested at JFK International Airport in New York on his way to Nigeria in May 2021.

Rufai pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington, in May to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges, and Judge Benjamin Settle issued the sentence Monday. The judge also ordered Rufai to pay more than $600,000 in restitution.

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

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

Such fraud was rampant in pandemic relief programs, according to the U.S. Labor Department’s inspector general, who said last week that $45.6 billion may have been paid out improperly in unemployment insurance from March 2020 to April 2022.

The Justice Department filed charges against dozens of people in Minnesota last week in connection with a $250 million fraud scheme that exploited a federally funded child nutrition program during the pandemic.

Rufai, of Lekki, Nigeria, has a master’s degree and is politically connected in his home country, prosecutors said. He had purported to run a sports betting company since 2016, his finances were opaque and his main source of income apparently was defrauding the U.S. government.

He was known 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 use a cache of stolen identities — investigators found more than 20,000 of them, with birthdates and social security numbers in one of his email accounts — to file for pandemic-related benefits. He applied with 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 newsmagazines, photographed with a luxury Mercedes sport-utility vehicle he had purchased with stolen funds and had shipped to Nigeria.

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

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

“Your honor, I am now a rehabilitated man that is 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 defense 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 in part to deter others who might commit similar crimes.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Washington County Road Department constructs an emergency dam to intercept an oil spill after a Key...
Associated Press

Federal data: Kansas oil spill biggest in Keystone history

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An oil spill in a creek in northeastern Kansas this week is the largest for an onshore crude pipeline in more than nine years and by far the biggest in the history of the Keystone pipeline, according to federal data. Canada-based TC Energy on Thursday estimated the spill on the Keystone […]
11 hours ago
Associated Press

Fire out at Iowa plant where explosion injured several

MARENGO, Iowa (AP) — It took nearly all night, but firefighters extinguished a fire that tore through an asphalt shingle recycling plant at Marengo in east-central Iowa. Firefighters worked until 4 a.m. Friday to extinguish the fire, Marengo Police Chief Ben Gray said. The fire broke out following an explosion at the C6-Zero plant shortly […]
11 hours ago
FILE - Ballots from the general election are boxed up at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Ph...
Associated Press

NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts: ___ All votes counted in Maricopa County, despite online claims CLAIM: Uncounted ballots that […]
11 hours ago
FILE - Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis holds his cellphone during a parliament session ...
Associated Press

As wiretap claims rattle government, Greece bans spyware

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Lawmakers in Greece on Friday approved legislation banning commercial spyware and reforming rules for legally-sanctioned wiretaps following allegations that senior government officials and journalists had been targeted by shadowy surveillance software. The 156-142 vote in parliament followed two days of debate, during which opposition lawmakers accused the government of attempting to […]
11 hours ago
Associated Press

Lawsuit against doctor who defied Texas abortion law tossed

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Lawyers for a doctor who intentionally defied a Texas abortion law that the lawyers called a “bounty-hunting scheme” say a court has dismissed a test of whether members of the public can sue providers who violate the restrictions for at least $10,000 in damages. Dr. Alan Braid published an opinion piece […]
11 hours ago
Former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad listens to Brazil's President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silv...
Associated Press

Brazil’s da Silva announces incoming Cabinet ministers

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Friday unveiled some of the faces that will comprise his incoming administration, including his much-awaited pick for finance minister: former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad. Haddad’s nomination ends weeks of suspense that have led to stock volatility and ups and downs of the […]
11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
Ex-Nigerian official gets 5 years for pandemic fraud in US