Abidemi Rufai, a suspended aide of Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, on Tuesday pleaded guilty in US District Court in Tacoma to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for using stolen identities to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in pandemic-related unemployment benefits, US attorney Nick Brown said.
Mr Rufai was arrested in New York in May 2021 as he was about to board a flight. He has been in detention since then.
A statement posted on the Justice Department’s website said that according to the plea agreement, since 2017, Rufai unlawfully obtained the personal identifying information for more than 20,000 Americans to submit more than $2 million in claims for federally funded benefits under a variety of relief programmes. The various agencies involved paid out more than $600,000.
The largest amount of fraud was committed against the Washington State Employment Security Department, which paid out $350,763 in fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims to accounts controlled by Rufai. Rufai also submitted fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims in at least 17 other states.
The 45-year-old also defrauded the Small Business Administration (SBA) by attempting to obtain Economic Injury Disaster loans (EIDL) tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Between April 8, 2020, and June 26, 2020, he submitted 19 fraudulent EIDL applications. SBA paid out $10,000 based on the applications.
Between 2017 and 2020, Rufai attempted to obtain more than $1.7 million in IRS tax refunds by submitting 675 false claims. The IRS paid out $90,877 on these claims.
The statement further said that in September and October 2017, he submitted 49 disaster relief claims connected to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. He filed $24,500 in false claims and was paid on 13 claims totaling $6,500.
Rufai has agreed to pay full restitution to the defrauded agencies.
Prosecutors said they will recommend no more than 71 months in prison. But US District Judge Benjamin Settle has the final say on the appropriate sentence on August 15, 2022.