Exclusive Details Of How US Govt Busts Nigerian Gov's Senior Aide, Rufai, In N312 Billion Unemployment Scam - THE ENCOUNTER NEWS


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Exclusive Details Of How US Govt Busts Nigerian Gov's Senior Aide, Rufai, In N312 Billion Unemployment Scam


As the likes of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Asisat Oshoala shatter global records to cast Nigeria — whose image has been starkly soiled —  in a positive light and correct the world's perception about her citizens, a small group of individuals appear to be in a constant overdrive to stifle these efforts. 

One of them, Abidemi Rufai, is a senior special assistant to Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, who this week, put Nigeria in the global hall of shame.

Unsatisfied with his riches and core of questionable jumbo perks that come with his political office, Rufai's greed drove him during the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, to harvest the Social Security numbers and other personal information of over 100 US citizens which he then used to file bogus claims for unemployment benefits from the Washington state Employment Security Department (ESD).

Between March and August 2020, according to the office of the acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, the 42-year-old Nigerian politician, under the alias Sandy Tang, received well over $350,000 (about N140 million) as proceeds of the fraudulent claims.

The funds, he later transferred to different accounts using 'Green Dot,' an online payment system while also using 'money mules' to mail some to Jamaica and New York addresses of his relatives.

Statement from the office confirmed the suspect evaded security systems at the ESD making use of a simple feature of Google's free Gmail service.

Rufai who owns a sports betting organisation named Ecobet, is widely regarded as a “young business turk, philanthropist; gregarious and enterprising dude.”

Before his appointment as Special Duties aide in 2020, he has resided in Lekki, Lagos, for donkey's years as neighbour and business associate of Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun state.

In 2019, Rufai made an unsuccessful run for a legislative seat in the Nigerian House of Representatives with the slogan “Ready and Committed to Serve with Trust and Ethics.”

Rufai's Eleventh Hour Arrest At The Airport

Rufai was picked up by the operatives of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) last Friday at the New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, just before fleeing the country for Lagos, Nigeria, via Royal Dutch Airlines flight KL644.

The suspect appeared before a federal court Saturday on fraud charges with a detention hearing held for him yesterday, Wednesday.

Andrea Desanto, FBI special agent in charge of Rufai's case, said the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington issued an arrest warrant commanding the suspect be taken into custody on May 14, 2021, for flouting Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343 (wire fraud).

His arrest came nearly a year after the ESD temporarily halt unemployment benefit payments having discovered criminals used stolen social security numbers to file for federal and state unemployment benefits payments.

Rufai was also connected to potential unemployment related fraud across Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

FBI tracked him down through a single Gmail account he had used to file 102 claims for unemployment benefits with the harvested personal identities of Washington residents.

Court documents showed that in January, Google was issued a warrant from a federal court, allowing investigators to search Rufai's Gmail account which led to the unraveling of over 1,000 emails used for the stolen benefits.

Emails containing bank and credit card numbers, birth dates and other personal identifying information, images of driver's licences, and “a very large volume” of tax returns of U.S. taxpayers were also found in Rufai's possession.

The recovery phone number listed to Rufai's Google account was a Nigerian number matching his 2019 U.S. visa application, and pictures matching his physical appearance in his 2019 visa application were seen in the linked Google Drive account.

Special Agent Desanto while speaking on the suspect's arrest recalled, “On or about May 13, 2021, law enforcement received information that ABIDEMI RUFAI would be boarding Royal Dutch Airlines flight KL644 at John F. Kennedy International Airport (“JFK Airport”) in Queens, New York to Amsterdam, with a final destination of Lagos, Nigeria.

“At approximately 7:45 p.m. on May 14, 2021, RUFAI arrived at JFK Airport. Law enforcement officers met RUFAI, who waived his Miranda rights and agreed to speak to law enforcement officers without an attorney present. While speaking with law enforcement officers, RUFAI verified his name and date of birth.”

 “RUFAI'S appearance matched photographs from the defendant ABIDEMI RUFAI's passport and identification cards. I further recognized RUFAI from the defendant ABIDEMI RUFAI's 2019 visa application photograph and from secondary inspection photographs taken by United States Customs and Border Patrol in 2017 and 2020.

Ogun State Govt Reacts

As news of Rufai's arrest by US authorities began to swirl in the Nigerian media, the Governor Dapo led government wasted no time as it immediately issued a statement disowning him.

Kunle Somorin, the state's chief press secretary, said “Our position is that the law should take its course.”

“Meanwhile, the governor has ordered his immediate suspension from office to answer charges against him.”

Premium Times citing sources within the governor's orbit reported that Mr. Abiodun ordered Rufai's suspension the moment he was briefed about of his arrest.

Rufai Speaks On Allegations

Abidemi Rufai, has in the meantime, denied involvement in all fraud allegations against him.

He spoke through his attorney, Michael Barrows of Garden City, New York, on Tuesday.

Mr Barrows who is currently pursuing a bail for the suspect said he (Rufai) “doesn't represent a flight risk, in part because he has given up his passport.”

Premium Times quoted the legal counsel as arguing that his client could be “prevented from fleeing through less restrictive means than having him remain in jail, including travel restrictions and electronic surveillance.”

Mr Barrows further maintained that suspects with more egregious allegations are released on self-recognisance.

“You have white-collar criminals [such as] insider traders who steal millions of dollars who are released on their own recognizance,” he said.

According to Tessa Gorman, acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Rufai is looking at potential 30 years in prison, if convicted of the wire fraud charges based on Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343 which he is alleged to have violated.

A Recurring Tale

Rufai is just one in a relay of politicians and Nigerians whose greed have cast Nigeria in a bad light.

In February this year, Obinwanne Okeke, listed by Forbes as one of the 100 Most Influential Young Africans, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for fraud.

Fondly called Invictus Obi, Okeke was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at Dulles International Airport while leaving the US over $11 million internet fraud in 2019.

The 33-year-old was jailed for his involvement in a computer-based intrusion fraud scheme that resulted in known losses of $11 million to his victims.

Similarly, a Nigerian Instagram celebrity Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, known as Hushpuppi was busted in June this year along with others for a multimillion-dollar fraud and money laundering.

Hushpuppi and another cyber-heist suspect Olalekan Jacob Ponle (aka Mr Woodberry) were arrested in Dubai, where they lived, by the city's police and extradited to the United States.

At the time of his arrest, Dubai police said they recovered $40m (£32m) in cash, 13 luxury cars worth $6.8m, 21 computers, 47 smartphones and the addresses of nearly two million alleged victims.

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