Governor of Ogun State, Prince Dapo Abiodun, has suspended his Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Special Duties, Abidemi Rufai, following his arrest in New York by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over alleged involvement in $.350 million Covid-19 unemployment benefits fraud.
The governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Kunle Somorin, who announced the decision, said the news of his aide’s involvement in fraud is disturbing.
He emphasized, however, that the “Governor cannot be held responsible for the actions of a full grown adult.”
According to him: “We received the very disturbing news of the arrest of one of the governor’s political appointees, Mr Abidemi Rufai in New York over alleged unemployment benefits and fraud in the United States, this morning.
“While the Governor cannot be held responsible for the actions of a full grown adult, especially outside the jurisdiction of Ogun and Nigeria, he has since suspended the suspect from office to enable him answer the charges levelled against him.
“The Governor wishes to condemn any act capable of undermining his determination to institute an open, transparent, accountable and morally upright behaviour in the State and in governance.
“Gov. Abiodun remains committed to his agenda of building our future together and will not condone criminals either in his government or the state in general.
The U.S. Department of Justice arrested Abidemi Rufai, Refai over the alleged scam.
This was contained in a statement titled: ‘Nigerian citizen charged with defrauding Washington State Employment Security Department of over $350,000’ by the Department” on Monday.
According to the statement, Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa Gorman announced Rufai was arrested Friday evening at JFK Airport in New York on a criminal complaint charging him with wire fraud “for his scheme to steal over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department.”
The statement disclosed that Rufai who allegedly disguised as ‘Sandy Tang’ made his initial appearance on Saturday in New York.
He is scheduled for a detention hearing Wednesday.
“Since the first fraud reports to our office in April 2020, we have worked diligently with a federal law enforcement team to track down the criminals who stole funds designated for pandemic relief.
“This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud,” Gorman was quoted to have said in the statement.
The criminal complaint alleged he used the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with ESD for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
The statement reads in part: “Rufai also filed fraudulent unemployment claims with Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania.
“Rufai used variations of a single e-mail address in a manner intended to evade automatic detection by fraud systems.
“By using this practice, Rufai made it appear that each claim was connected with a different email account.
“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.’
“Some of the proceeds were then mailed to the Jamaica, New York address of Rufai’s relative.
“Law enforcement determined more than $288,000 was deposited into an American bank account controlled by Rufai between March and August 2020.
“Greed is a powerful motivator. Unfortunately, the greed alleged to this defendant affects all taxpayers.
“The FBI and our partners will not stand idly by while individuals attempt to defraud programs meant to assist American workers and families suffering the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Donald Voiret, Special Agent in Charge FBI Seattle.
Wire fraud is punishable by up to 30 years in prison when it relates to benefits paid in connection with a presidentially-declared disaster or emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was established that the charges contained in the complaint are only allegations as a person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The case was reportedly investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG).
“The fraud on ESD is being investigated cooperatively by the FBI, DOL-OIG, Social Security Office of Inspector General, U.S. Secret Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations.
“The Washington Employment Security Department is cooperating in the investigation.
“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 Cyber Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS),” the statement concluded