Abidemi Rufai, Governor Dapo Abiodun’s business associate and political aide, has been sentenced to five years in prison for stealing pandemic relief benefits in the United States.
The 45-year-old resident of Lekki, Lagos, was sentenced on September 26, 2022, by a federal judge in Tacoma, Washington, to 60 months in prison for $2.4 million in wire fraud and aggravated identity theft from several authorities in the U.S., including about $500,000 in coronavirus relief grants, according to court documents seen by us.
He was slammed with 36 months for wire fraud and 24 months for aggravated identity theft. The sentences will run consecutively at the U.S. correctional facilities in Fort Dix, New Jersey, or the Northeastern Regional, court filings said.
Mr Rufai pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington, in May to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges, and Judge Benjamin Settle issued the sentence Monday.
Mr Rufai entered a plea agreement according to court documents from the district court for the western district of Washington.
Documents noted that Mr Rufai “obtained the personal identifying information (PII)…of more than 20,000 unwitting 11 Americans… through unlawful means, including by misusing the Internal Revenue Service’s Data Retrieval Tool.”
It also noted that Mr Rufai “used this stolen PII to obtain 15 federally-funded benefits under various relief programs fraudulently, and by submitting fraudulent 16 claims for tax refunds, in the names of the Americans.”
Mr Rufai is to pay $607,377 as restitution. He must also list all assets linked to him, including his spouse and proxies, that will be seized if he cannot pay the $607,377.
Mr Rufai used a single Gmail account to file multiple unemployment claims in Washington. He also used stolen social security numbers and other personal data.
Last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation disclosed that it had been monitoring Mr Rufai since 2017 after filing 652 fraudulent tax returns in the United States.
“When disaster struck, so did Mr Rufai,” Seattle U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said in a news release. “Whether it was hurricane disaster relief, small business loans, or COVID unemployment benefits, he stole aid that should have gone to disaster victims in the United States.”
We had reported that Mr Rufai had been apprehended by security personnel in New York as he tried to flee the U.S. to Nigeria via Amsterdam.
Mr Rufai has been in custody since his arrest at New York’s JFK airport in May 2021.
Mr Rufai was widely known as a notorious Internet fraud ringleader in Lagos and Ogun for many years. It was unclear whether or not Mr Abiodun was part of the syndicate or whether the FBI had identified him as a person of interest in his associate’s fraud conviction.