Abidemi Rufai, a Senior Special Assistant to Governor Dapo Abiodun, has been arrested for allegedly defrauding the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York while trying to escape to Nigeria.
Rufai, aka ‘Sandy Tang’, 42, is charged with wiring over $350,000 in unemployment benefits in the U.S.
He allegedly submitted dozens of unemployment claims to Washington State using stolen identities between March and October 2020.
He used a single Gmail account to file 102 claims for ESD benefits and also used it to file for benefits in 10 other states.
Bypassing security systems at ESD using a simple feature of Gmail which allows users to create many additional email addresses simply by adding one or more periods to the original email address.
This is because the Gmail system doesn’t recognize periods, any emails sent to those so-called dot variant addresses are delivered to the inbox of the original Gmail address.
In Rufai’s case, his original email address — Sandytangy58@gmail.com — was expanded to include dot variants such as email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
In January, a federal judge issued a warrant to Gmail, allowing investigators to search his Gmail account. Rufai however let down his guard by linking his Nigerian phone number to the account.
Although the Gmail account used his fake name, the recovery phone number was the same one he used in his 2019 U.S. visa application. Also, a Google Drive account associated with the Gmail account included the picture he used in the visa application and other government documents.
It also contained purchase confirmation emails for products that listed his brother’s address in Jamaica, New York, as the billing address.
Investigators also found a massive cache of tax returns and evidence that Rufai was allegedly involved in numerous other fraud schemes.
Bank records show that $288,825 was deposited into his bank account.
Meanwhile, he is facing up to 30 years in prison if found guilty.
Gov. Abiodun’s aide Abidemi Rufai scammed New York, Hawaii, 6 other U.S . states
Governor Dapo Abiodun’s aide, Abidemi Rufai did not only make fraudulent unemployment claims in Washington State, he made the same claims in at least six other states.
These are Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania, according to a statement by Department of Justice in Washington State.
Rufai, who contested for nomination as APC candidate in the House of Representatives in the 2019 election, is from Ijebu-Ode, a member of the popular Mayodele Family.
An Ijebu-Ode indigene commented on Tuesday: “Abidemi has only brought dishonour to the respected family”.
“The criminal complaint alleges that Rufai used the stolen identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with ESD for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
“Rufai also filed fraudulent unemployment claims with Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania.
“Rufai used variations of a single e-mail address in a manner intended to evade automatic detection by fraud systems. By using this practice, Rufai made it appear that each claim was connected with a different email account.
“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 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 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.”
Rufai was arrested Friday evening at JFK Airport in New York on a criminal complaint charging him with wire fraud for his scheme to steal over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman.
Abidemi Rufai, aka Sandy Tang, 42, of Lekki, Nigeria, made his initial appearance Saturday May 15, 2021 in New York. He is scheduled for a detention hearing today.
“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 Gorman.
“This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud.”
Wire fraud is punishable by up to thirty years in prison when it relates to benefits paid in connection with a presidentially-declared disaster or emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The charges contained in the complaint are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This case was investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (DOL-OIG).
The fraud on ESD is being investigated cooperatively by the FBI, DOL-OIG, Social Security Office of Inspector General, U.S. Secret Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations. The Washington Employment Security Department is cooperating in the investigation.
The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Seth Wilkinson, Cindy Chang, and Benjamin Diggs of the Western District of Washington, and Trial Attorney Jane Lee of DOJ’s Cyber Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS).
Rufai’s arrest comes almost a year after officials announced they were temporarily suspending unemployment benefits payments after discovering that criminals had used stolen Social Security numbers and other personal information to file bogus claims for federal and state unemployment benefits.
Within days, officials disclosed that “hundreds of millions of dollars” had likely been stolen in a fraud scheme that law enforcement officials and cybercrime experts said was partly based in Nigeria.