Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has arrested Abidemi Rufai over employment fraud.
ALEDEH News reports that Rufai was arrested on Friday at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for his alleged role in Washington state’s $650 million (N312 billion) employment fraud.
According to reports, Rufai was made to appear before a federal court Saturday on charges alleging he used the identities of more than 100 Washington residents to fraudulently receive over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
He also filed fraudulent unemployment claims with Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York and Pennsylvania.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Tessa Gorman in a statement Monday said “this is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud.”
Rufai who is scheduled for a detention hearing tomorrow (Wednesday), risks up to 30 years in jail for wire fraud “in connection to a presidentially declared disaster or emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Abidemi Rufai’s arrest came about a year after the ESD temporarily suspended unemployment benefit payments after it was observed that criminals used stolen social security numbers to file for federal and state unemployment benefits payments.
Federal investigators traced Rufai through a single Gmail account which he used to file 102 claims for unemployment benefits, using stolen personal identities of real Washington residents.
The complaint noted that in January, Google was issued a warrant from a federal court to permit investigators to search Rufai’s Gmail account.
The phone number registered to the Google account is a Nigerian number that matches Rufai’s 2019 U.S. visa application and pictures.
The investigation revealed that over 1,000 emails from the ESD and about 100 emails from other states’ unemployment systems, and from Green Dot, an online payment system, were used for the stolen unemployment benefits.
Also found in Abidemi Rufai’s possession were emails including 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.