Nigerian arrested after allegedly stealing over $350K in COVID-19 unemployment benefits: Feds

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Source: Department of Justice

May. 18 2021, Published 8:28 p.m. ET

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A Nigerian citizen stole $350,000 in COVID-19 unemployment from the state of Washington, according to federal prosecutors. 

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A criminal complaint charged him with wire fraud for his scheme to steal over $350,000 in unemployment from the Washington State Employment Security Department, prosecutors announced. 

Abidemi Rufai, aka "Sandy Tang," 42, of Lekki, Nigeria, allegedly used the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file false claims for pandemic relief benefits.

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Investigators say Rufai also filed false unemployment claims in Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York and Pennsylvania. 

He allegedly used variations of the same email address to evade automatic detection by fraud systems, according to prosecutors. 

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Rufai caused the fraud proceeds to be paid out to online accounts such as “Green Dot” accounts or wired to bank accounts controlled by “money mules,” authorities say.

Some of the proceeds were allegedly then mailed to the Jamaica, New York address of Rufai’s relative. Rufai was recently arrested for the alleged scheme while he was at JFK Airport in New York City.

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Law enforcement determined more than $288,000 was deposited into an American bank account controlled by Rufai between March and August 2020, according to prosecutors. 

“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,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman.  “This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud.”

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“Greed is a powerful motivator.  Unfortunately, the greed alleged to this defendant affects all taxpayers,” said Donald Voiret, Special Agent in Charge FBI Seattle. “The FBI and our partners will not stand idly by while individuals attempt to defraud programs meant to assist American workers and families suffering the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.”  

Wire fraud is punishable by up to 30 years in prison when it relates to benefits paid in connection with a presidentially declared disaster or emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

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