Abidemi Rufai, a senior special assistant to Dapo Abiodun, governor of Ogun, has been arrested in the United States over alleged $350,000 unemployment benefits fraud.
Rufai was arrested on Friday evening at JFK Airport in New York.
According to the US attorney’s office in Western District of Washington, a criminal complaint had been filed against Rufai for stealing over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State employment security department (ESD).
According to the complainant, Rufai used the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with ESD for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
Rufai was also accused of filing fraudulent unemployment claims with Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania.
The Nigerian was accused of using variations of a single e-mail address in a manner intended to evade automatic detection by fraud systems.
US law enforcement agents said more than $288,000 was deposited into an American bank account controlled by Rufai between March and August 2020.
The 42-year-old was said to have ensured that the fraud proceeds were paid out to online payment accounts such as “Green Dot” accounts, or wired to bank accounts controlled by “money mules”.
The US authorities also said some of the proceeds were mailed to the Jamaica, New York addresses of an Rufai’s relative.
Reacting to the arrest during Rufai’s first court appearance on Saturday, Tessa Gorman, acting US attorney, said it has been working with a law enforcement team since April 2020 to track criminals diverting relief funds meant for vulnerable American citizens.
“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,” Gorman said.
“This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud.”
Rufai has been scheduled for a detention hearing on Wednesday.
Rufai was appointed by the Ogun state governor in August 2020.