The suspended aide of Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, Abidemi Rufai, who is facing $350,000 fraud charges in the United States, has denied authorities’ fresh allegation of his involvement in a fraudulent surety scheme.
PREMIUM TIMES reported on Saturday how the United States Department of Justice accused Mr Rufai of “knowingly” participating “in a fraudulent surety scheme” therefore misleading the court in his desperate bid to get a surety for the bail earlier granted him by a magistrate’s court.
Acting U.S. Attorney, Tessa Gorma, in documents filed at a United States Courthouse, in Tacoma, Washington, on June 23, alleged that Mr Rufai misled the court by presenting before the court a surety he barely knew as his friend.
The government said it got a transcript of a recorded call between Mr Rufai and his brother, discussing the issue on May 25, four days after a hearing on his detention.
Responding to the claims, Mr Rufai, through his lawyer, Michael Barrows, said the government failed to establish the allegations against his client.
Mr Barrows said “a review of the government’s most recent memorandum, purporting to depict Mr Rufai’s informal and innocuous conversation with his brother – where they each refer to the surety as ‘lady’ – as evidence of a “fraudulent surety scheme” is both self-serving and unsupported by the transcripts themselves.”
The lawyer argued that nothing in the transcript of the conversation referred to by the U.S. authorities indicates that the defendant was unfamiliar with his surety.
He described the government’s claim as a pure fiction indicative of its desperation to keep Mr Rufai in detention at all cost.
“The government’s position that Mr. Rufai did not even know his surety and did not know basic biographical information about her is an absolute fabrication and cannot be found anywhere in the transcript of conversation between Mr Rufai and his brother.
“This is pure fiction, and is a further indication that the government will say anything, supportable or not, in an effort to keep Mr Rufai incarcerated pending his trial so as to exert maximum pressure,” the lawyer stated.
Mr Barrows added tthat the government’s “intentional mischaracterisations of both Mr Rufai’s conversation with his brother, and the nature of his relationship with the proffered surety, demonstrates the underlying weakness of the government’s position vis-a-vis their request for review of the Eastern District’s decision to grant Mr Rufai’s pre-trial release.”
He added, “The government’s further claim that Mr Rufai’s statement to his brother that ‘the money is available’ somehow indicates that Mr Rufai ‘has significant assets which he is willing to use however he can to secure his own release’ is equally unsupported by the record, yet offered as fact.
“In actuality, Mr Rufai’s statement that money is available” is indicative of the fact that he has the support of caring friends and family that he can call upon should this Court require a bond,” Mr Barrows said in court documents on June 24, in response to U.S. government surety scheme allegations against Mr Rufai.”
Mr Rufai was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York while heading to Nigeria on May 14.
He was said to have used the identities of more than 100 Washington residents to steal more than $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
At the end of a detention hearing held on May 19, 2021, the Magistrate of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Ramon Reyes, agreed with the government that Mr Rufai posed “a serious flight risk”, but found that the risk could be addressed by conditions of release, including a $300,000 bond.
The magistrate went on to issue an order releasing Mr Rufai based on the bond in which Mr Rufai’s brother, who is licensed as an attorney in New York, was proposed as surety.
Mr Rufai was not released because his brother did not sign the bail bond. The suspect was then remanded pending when he would provide an alternate surety.
Following the refusal of Mr Rufai’s brother to stand as a surety, the defendant’s lawyer, Michael Barrows, on May 21, presented Nekpen Soyemi, a registered nurse, whose family comes from Nigeria.
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The U.S. later exposed her as a “suspect in an investigation into an email impersonation scheme.” Her husband, Idris Soyemi, is also said to have been convicted for wire fraud in 2014.
Now, U.S. findings have further shown that Mr Rufai planted the surety and they never knew each other before now. He has denied this.
The U.S. government on May 24 filed an emergency motion of stay release order before the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington at Tacoma. The court granted the government’s motion as the U.S. uncovered more criminal activities involving the suspect.
A federal grand jury in late May ratified the charges involving conspiracy, wire fraud and “aggravated identity theft” against Mr Rufai.
He was subsequently arraigned on fraud charges before a United States Courthouse, in Tacoma, Washington.