A Nigerian governor’s aide has been suspended after being arrested in the United States in connection with a multi-million-dollar unemployment benefits scam.
Abidemi Rufai, aka Sandy Tang, was arrested on Friday at JFK Airport in New York. The 42-year-old resident of Lekki, Nigeria, has been charged with wire fraud.
Rufai is accused of stealing the identities of more than 100 people in Washington state to file fraudulent claims for $350,000 in unemployment benefits, which were then paid into online payment accounts or wired to bank accounts controlled by “money mules.”
Some of the proceeds were then allegedly mailed to the Jamaica, New York, address of Rufai’s relative. Law enforcement found more than $288,000 was deposited into an American bank account under Rufai’s control between March and August 2020.
The Seattle Times reports Rufai’s arrest as being part of a wider investigation into Washington state’s $650m unemployment fraud.
Investigators allege that Rufai avoided fraud detection by Washington state’s Employment Security Department by making small variations to his email address when registering for financial assistance.
Kiro7 reports that Rufai gave the impression of being multiple applicants by scattering his regular Gmail address with periods. Since periods in email addresses are unrecognized by Gmail, all the messages sent by the Employment Security Department ended up in Rufai’s inbox.
Rufai is further accused of filing fraudulent unemployment claims with Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania.
In Nigeria, Rufai held the position of senior special assistant (SSA) on special duties to the Ogun State governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun.
Reacting through his chief press secretary, Kunle Somorin, to news of Rufai’s arrest, Abiodun said: “We received the very disturbing news of the arrest of one of the governor’s political appointees, Mr. Abidemi Rufai, in New York over alleged unemployment benefits and fraud in the United States, this morning.
“While the governor cannot be held responsible for the actions of a full-grown adult, especially outside the jurisdiction of Ogun and Nigeria, he has since suspended the suspect from office to enable him answer the charges leveled against him.”