A court in the United States has been told how Abidemi Rufai, the suspended Senior Special Assistant to Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, allegedly stole a whopping $350,000 from the government.
According to the court document, Rufai defrauded Washington State Employment Security Department using 10 different means.
In the document, Rufai was said to have submitted over 100 claims to the Washington Employment Department, and had also submitted additional claims to the state workforce agencies for other states.
The Nigerian reportedly carried out the scheme by using the stolen identities of American workers, according to a report by Punch.
“In so doing, Rufai caused and attempted to cause, the Employment Security Department to pay out federal and other unemployment benefits in excess of $350,000, and fraudulently caused other states to pay out additional benefit payments,” part of the document reads.
Rufai’s fraud indictment, arrest and detention
The PUNCH reports that Abidemi Rufai has been in custody since his arrest on May 14, 2021, at the John F Kennedy International Airport in New York.
He was subsequently charged with defrauding Washington State Employment Security Department of over $350,000.
The indictment subsequently led to his suspension as a Senior Special Assistant on Special Duties, Abidemi Rufai.
Though he applied for bail on Wednesday, May 19, 2021, the application was denied as his brother could not afford the $300,000 “surety” bond.
The suspect was later detained at the Western District of Washington from where he is attending further court proceedings.
However, the 42-year-old Nigerian had denied the criminal charges filed against him.
The scheme Rufai allegedly manipulated
The suspended Ogun governor’s aide allegedly attempted to defraud the US agency using a Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act enacted on March 27, 2020 in the United States
The CARES Act authorised approximately $2 trillion in aid to American workers, families, and businesses to mitigate the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CARES Act funded, and authorised each state to administer new unemployment benefits. These benefits include: Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which provided a benefit of $600 per week per unemployed worker in addition to existing benefits.
Others are Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which extends benefits to self-employed persons, independent contractors, and others; and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance , which extends benefits for an additional 13 weeks after regular unemployment benefits are exhausted.
CARES Act unemployment benefits are funded by the United States government through the Department of Labor, and administered at the state level by state agencies known as state workforce agencies (SWAs). The Washington Employment Security Department is the SWA for the State of Washington.
CARES Act unemployment benefits are authorized, transferred, disbursed and paid in connection with a nationwide emergency declared by Presidential Proclamation 9994 (effective as of March 1, 2020) and a Presidential declaration of a major disaster for the State of Washington concerning the COVID-19 pandemic that was issued on March 22, 2020.
Among the charges levelled against the 42-year-old Nigerian is a conspiracy.
The document stated that Rufai and other co-conspirators began their moves no later than on or about April 27, 2020, and continuing through at least on or about June 2, 2020, at Olympia, within the Western District of Washington, and elsewhere.
“Rufai, a/k/a Sandy Tang, together with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, did conspire, confederate and agree, together and with each other, to commit the offense of wire fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343.
“That is, ABIDEMI RUFAI, together with others known and unknown, with intent to defraud, knowingly devised a scheme and artifice to defraud, and to obtain money and property, by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises. To execute and attempt to execute the scheme and artifice to defraud, ABIDEMI RUFAI, together with others known and unknown, knowingly transmitted, and caused to be transmitted by wire communication in interstate and foreign commerce, writings, signs, signals, pictures and sounds,” part of the document added.
Manner and means
The court document revealed that 10 conducts were part of the conspiracy used by the suspended governor’s aide to engaged in the alleged wired fraud.
The manners and ways were listed as:
– RUFAI and his co-conspirators unlawfully obtained, possessed and shared with one another the PII of residents of Washington and other states, including their names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers.
– RUFAI and his co-conspirators created email accounts, including an account administered by Google Inc., (“Google”) with the address “email@example.com,” for the purpose of participating in fraudulent transactions while obscuring their identities.
– RUFAI and his co-conspirators, using foreign and interstate wire transmissions, accessed ESD’s SAW portal, as well as similar portals of other SWAs, including SWAs for the states of Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Each time RUFAI or a co-conspirator accessed the Washington SAW portal, he or she caused wire transmissions terminating and originating at the State Data Center in Olympia, Washington.
– To establish SAW accounts, RUFAI and his co-conspirators provided the firstname.lastname@example.org email address to ESD as the designated email address to receive activation emails. Each time RUFAI or a co-conspirator input this email address into the SAW system, an activation email was sent to the email@example.com email account.
– Each of these emails was sent via an interstate wire transmission originating from the State Data Center in Olympia, Washington and passing through a Google data center outside the state of Washington.
– To prevent ESD and other SWAs from recognizing that the same email account was being used to file multiple claims, RUFAI and his co-conspirators used dozens of variants of the email address by placing periods at different locations within the email address for each claim. For example, RUFAI opened SAW accounts and submitted claims using the variants “firstname.lastname@example.org,” “email@example.com,”
– In routing emails to a Gmail account, Google disregards periods within the email address (e.g., “firstname.lastname@example.org” is routed to the same account as “johndoe@gmaiLcom”). As a result, Google delivered all of these emails (and any similar “dot variants” of the same address) to the email@example.com account. By using these email address variants, RUFAI and his co-conspirators were able to file multiple claims using the same email account, without BSD and other SWAs detecting that they were doing so.
– When completing the applications, RUFAI and his co-conspirators directed that some of the benefits be paid to online payment accounts, including accounts administered by the Green Dot Corporation. In other cases, RUFAI and his co- conspirators directed that the fraudulent benefit payments be made to bank accounts controlled by persons known as “money mules,” who withdrew and transferred the funds according to instructions given by RUFAI and his co-conspirators.
– RUFAI and his co-conspirators directed the money mules to send a portion of the proceeds to the residence
of RUFAI’ s brother in Jamaica, New York, where RUFAI was then staying.
– The wire fraud that was the object of this conspiracy occurred in relation to, and involved, benefit payments authorized, transmitted, transferred, disbursed, and paid in connection with the presidentially declared major disaster and emergency.