Ogun Gov. Dapo Abiodun’s Senior Special Assistant, Abidemi Rufai, has been arrested at the New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport over alleged Washington State’s $650 million unemployment fraud.
On conviction, Rufai may be sentenced to 30 years in jail.
He was on his way to Nigeria when he was arrested by federal agents of the United States of America on Friday, and was charged to Federal Court on Saturday.
Rufai, a resident of Lekki in Lagos State, was arraigned on charges that he used the identities of more than 100 Washington residents to steal more than $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington state Employment Security Department (ESD) during the coronavirus pandemic last year.
Acting United States of America (U.S). Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Tessa Gorman, in a statement on Monday said:“This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud,”
The federal complaint also provides a detailed glimpse into the scale of the pandemic-related fraud as well as the methods — some of them surprisingly unsophisticated — fraudsters used to pilfer unemployment systems in Washington and other states.
The 42- year-old suspect, was arrested by FBI agents Friday evening and is scheduled for a detention hearing Wednesday, while the case will be prosecuted in federal court in Tacoma.
“I want to thank our partners in law enforcement for their continued efforts to hold criminals accountable for their attacks on our unemployment insurance system,” Acting Commissioner Employment Security Department (ESD) Cami Feek said.
Rufai’s arrest comes almost a year to the day after ESD officials announced they were temporarily suspending benefits payments were after discovering that criminals had used stolen Social Security numbers and other personal information to file bogus claims for federal and state unemployment benefits.
Rufai a.k.a Sandy Tang, is also accused of defrauding unemployment programs in Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Massive investigations also revealed a massive cache of tax returns and other personal data and evidence that Rufai was allegedly involved in numerous other fraud schemes, while federal officials acknowledged that Rufai’s presence in the United States probably was unusual in the unemployment fraud scheme.
The American authorities also offered a detailed explanation of how Rufai — and presumably others — allegedly bypassed security systems at ESD using a simple feature of Google’s free Gmail service.
The investigators initially identified Rufai through a single Gmail account he used to file 102 claims for pandemic-related unemployment benefits from ESD, as well as claims at programs in other states, according to the complaint.
The investigation revealed that, his original email address — Sandytangy58@gmail.com — was expanded to include dot variants such as email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, according to the federal complaint.
Rufai had used the dot variant addresses to create multiple accounts in the Washington state system that authenticates users of government services, and was alleged to then filed for unemployment benefits with ESD, the complaint, using stolen personal identities of real Washington residents.