‘The motivation was greed’: Ex-Nigerian official gets 5 years for stealing US disaster funds

A former government official in Nigeria has been sentenced to five years in a US prison for using stolen identities to apply for millions of dollars in US disaster relief despite living thousands of miles away.

Abidemi Rufai had been a special assistant to the governor of Nigeria’s Ogun state advising on child poverty programs when he was arrested at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in May 2021 on wire fraud and identity theft charges, federal prosecutors said.

Rufai, 45, of Lekki, Nigeria, has been accused of collecting the stolen identities of thousands of US citizens and using many of them to fund over $2.4 million in disaster relief for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and to apply for the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prosecutors said Rufai managed to collect over $600,000 in government aid as a result of various scams.

“Mr. Rufai was adamant in his plan to use the stolen identities of Americans for fraud,” said Nick Brown, the US Attorney for the Western District of Washington state, where the case was brought so does Mr. Rufai. Whether it was hurricane relief, small business loans, or COVID unemployment benefits, he stole aid that should have benefited disaster victims across the United States.”

In Rufai’s sentencing, U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle agreed, saying, “The motivation was greed, unbridled greed, and an indifference to those who suffered.”

Investigators say Rufai used the proceeds of his scams to buy a $71,000 Mercedes-Benz SUV in the United States, which he then shipped to Nigeria. When he was arrested, he was wearing a $10,000 watch and a $35,000 gold chain, according to court records.

Rufai, who has a master’s degree in human relations management and ran a successful sports betting business in Nigeria, was a prolific political fundraiser who ran for office in his home country, prosecutors said. After his arrest, he was dismissed from his government post.

In court documents, Rufai admitted to operating the scams but said he had struggled with a gambling addiction and suffered from corruption in his home country, leading him to believe it was moral to commit such crimes.

“I take full responsibility for my foolish deeds and hope the people of this blissful state will find it in their hearts to betray me,” Rufai said in a handwritten letter to the judge asking for leniency.

According to court documents, Washington authorities said they got wind of the scam in 2020 after officers from the Seattle Fire Department, Microsoft Corp. Zulily.com, the City of Bellingham and the Seattle Yacht Club have been contacted, saying some of their employees appeared to be receiving unemployment benefits because of Covid-19, although they continued to work.

An investigation revealed that all applications were traced to a single Google Gmail address, sandytangy58@gmail.com. According to court documents, Rufai had used numerous variations of the address, inserting periods between different letters. While Google ignores the time periods and treats all of those variations as the same address, many state unemployment systems would recognize them as different, prosecutors said.

A subpoena for the email account revealed that it was used for a variety of scams dating back to 2017, including the fraudulent request for FEMA disaster assistance for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. An emergency backup phone number linked to the Nigeria-registered account, court filings say. The same phone number was used to apply for a visa for Rufai to enter the United States in 2016.

Rufai also used stolen identities to submit hundreds of fake tax refund applications, for which he received over $90,000, investigators said.

The prosecutor said Rufai agreed to pay the defrauded authorities a full refund of over $600,000 but did not fully cooperate in efforts to recover the money.

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-motivation-was-greed-unrestrained-greed-ex-nigerian-official-sentenced-to-5-years-for-stealing-from-u-s-disaster-relief-funds-11664306370?rss=1&siteid=rss ‘The motivation was greed’: Ex-Nigerian official gets 5 years for stealing US disaster funds

Brian Lowry

InternetCloning is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – admin@internetcloning.com. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Related Articles

Back to top button