Findings have shown how an aide to Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State defrauded United States and how he was tracked over his involvement in $350,000 (about N140 million) COVID-19 unemployment fraud.
PREMIUM TIMES earlier reported that Abidemi Rufai, Mr Abiodun’s Senior Special Assistant, was nabbed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York last Friday.
He was allegedly planning to leave the U.S. for Amsterdam in Netherlands when he was arrested.
He is scheduled for a detention hearing Wednesday in a federal court at Tacoma.
According to Tessa Gorman, acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Mr Rufai 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.
He is also suspected to be defrauding unemployment programs in Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Wire fraud, according to the United States Department of Justice, 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.
How Rufai allegedly defrauded U.S.
According to The Seattle Times report, Mr Rufai bypassed security systems at the Employment Security Department using a simple feature of Google’s free Gmail service.
“Federal investigators initially identified Rufai through a single Gmail account he used to file 102 claims for pandemic-related unemployment benefits from the ESD, as well as claims at programs in other states, according to the complaint.
“In Rufai’s case, his original email address — Sandytangy58@gmail.com — was expanded to include dot variants such as firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, according to the federal complaint.
“Rufai used the dot variant addresses to create multiple accounts in the Washington state system that authenticates online users of government services, the complaint alleges. Rufai was then able to file for unemployment benefits with the ESD using stolen personal identities of real Washington residents, the complaint said.
“Because emails sent by the agency to the dot variants all went to Rufai’s Gmail account, Rufai could easily monitor all ESD correspondence regarding each claim.”
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that a federal judge in January 2021 issued a warrant to Google, which operates Gmail, allowing investigators to search Mr Rufai’s Gmail account.
“Investigators found more than 1,000 emails from the ESD, including emails the agency sent allowing new claimants to activate their accounts.
Investigators also found around 100 emails from other states’ unemployment systems and from Green Dot, an online payment system reportedly used for stolen unemployment benefits,
“The email and banking tactics allegedly used by Rufai appear to link him with the Nigerian crime organization known as Scattered Canary,” the Seattle Times reported.
The report said findings show that Mr Rufai was actively engaged in stealing and retaining the personal identifying information of American citizens.
“Investigators found numerous emails with file attachments containing thousands of bank and credit card numbers, birth dates and other personal identifying information, images of driver’s licenses, and “a very large volume” of tax returns of U.S. taxpayers.”
Rufai’s ‘security lapses’
According to the newspaper, Mr Rufai’s recovery number for his mail was a Nigerian-based cellphone number that was also listed on his 2019 U.S. visa application.
“A Google Drive account associated with the Gmail account included images of “an individual who matches the physical appearance of Rufai in his 2019 visa application photo.”
“It also contained purchase confirmation emails for products that listed Mr Rufai’s brother’s address in Jamaica, New York, as the billing addresses.
The report stated that investigators determined that Mr Rufai arrived in the United States on February 19, 2020, and left on August 9, 2020, “and was therefore apparently present in the United States during the period of the fraud.”
“Bank records show that between March 3 and Aug. 2, 2020, $288,825 was deposited from multiple sources, including Green Dot, into a Citibank checking account in Rufai’s name, according to the complaint and federal officials.
“Additional funds were transferred by the ESD to the account of a second individual, identified in the complaint as C.S., who reportedly filed unemployment claims using Rufai’s Gmail account. That individual also filed claims for unemployment benefits in other states.”