The suspended Senior Special Assistant to the Ogun State Governor Dapo Abiodun, Mr Abidemi Rufai, caught in $350,000 wire fraud, may forfeit his bail as the United State authorities said he would escape to Nigeria if granted bail and his extradition would be difficult.
The Acting US Attorney, Tessa Gorma, stated this while asking a district judge to reverse a bail earlier granted to Rufai by a magistrate judge.
The authorities argued that Rufai presents an extreme risk of flight and “if he does escape to Nigeria, extradition will be extraordinarily difficult or impossible because of his ties to the Nigerian government.”
“It is well known that extradition from Nigeria to the United States is difficult under the best of circumstances. That will be exacerbated in this case because of the strong political connections that earned Rufai a governmental appointment,” Gorma said.
Despite his alleged involvement in $350,000 fraud, Rufai said through his lawyer that he was a man of integrity.
Responding to the government’s appeal on why he should be released on bail, his lawyer, Lance Hester, told the court in Tacoma that his client has a good character, which facilitated his appointment as governor’s aide.
The reply was filed on June 1, 2021.
“…Mr Rufai’s status as Nigerian National should not weigh heavily in favour of pretrial detention but rather, militate in favor of pretrial release. As the government concedes, Mr. Rufai holds a distinguished Governmental position in his home.
“It goes without saying that only an individual of high moral character and integrity could achieve such a distinguished governmental appointment,” Hester argued for his client in a court filing obtained by Premium Times on Thursday.
SaharaReporters had on May 18 reported that Rufai faces up to 30 years in prison if he is convicted of wire fraud.
According to the United States Department of Justice, wire fraud is punishable by up to 30 years in prison regarding benefits paid in connection with a presidentially declared disaster or emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rufai, who served as the Deputy Director-General of the Dapo Abiodun Campaign Organisation in the last governorship election in the state, was arrested on Friday at the JFK Airport in New York, the United States of America, on a criminal complaint of wire fraud for his scheme to steal over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department, the acting US Attorney, Tessa M. Gorman, announced.
Rufai, aka Sandy Tang, 42, of Lekki, Lagos, made his initial appearance in court on Saturday, May 15, 2021, in New York.
"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. This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of the ESD fraud," Gorman had said.
The criminal complaint alleges that Rufai used the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with the ESD for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
He was alleged to have also filed fraudulent unemployment claims with Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York and Pennsylvania. He used variations of a single email address in a manner intended to evade automatic detection by fraud systems.
Using this practice, Rufai allegedly made it appear that each claim was connected with a different email account.
The US Department of Justice stated on its website that Rufai caused the fraud proceeds to be paid out to online payment accounts such as 'Green Dot' accounts or wired to bank accounts controlled by 'money mules'. Some of the proceeds were then mailed to the Jamaica, New York address of Rufai's relative.
Law enforcement determined that more than $288,000 was deposited into an American bank account controlled by Rufai between March and August 2020.
"Greed is a powerful motivator. Unfortunately, the greed alleged to this defendant affects all taxpayers," said Donald Voiret, Special Agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigations in Seattle.
"The FBI and our partners will not stand idly by while individuals attempt to defraud programmes meant to assist American workers and families suffering the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic," he added.
Ogun State governor, in his reaction, described the arrest as disturbing news and ordered the immediate suspension of Rufai.