The US Department of Justice said in a statement on Monday that a Senior Special Assistant to the Ogun State Governor has been arrested in the United State for wire fraud.
Abidemi Rafiu was arrested at the JFK Airport in New York as he tries to leave the US and has appeared before a court on May 15. He is scheduled for a detention hearing on May 19.
If found guilty, Rafui may spend up to thirty years in prison since the fraud relates to benefits paid in connection with a presidentially declared disaster or emergency.
Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman said Abidemi Rafiu using an alias, Sandy Tang, to steal over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department.
“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.
“This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud.”
Rafiu, the DoJ said, stole the identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file fraudulent claims with ESD for pandemic-related unemployment benefits.
“Rafiu used variations of a single e-mail address in a manner intended to evade automatic detection by fraud systems,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.
“By using this practice, Rafiu made it appear that each claim was connected with a different email account.”
The proceeds of his fraudulent claims were 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 Rafiu’s relative. Law enforcement determined said more than $288,000 was deposited into an American bank account controlled by Rafiu 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.”
US law enforcement agents have been tracking the activities of scammers linked to Nigeria who were exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to commit wire fraud, at least, since May 2020.
The United States Secret Service said in internal memo May 2020 that a “well-orchestrated” COVID-19-related fraud targeting multiple American states was traced back to Nigeria.
The memo was reportedly sent to Secret Service’s field offices across the US on Thursday, May 14, 2020.
The Secret Service said the fraudsters are exploring the COVID-19 pandemic to commit massive fraud against by targeting unemployment insurance programmes.
“The United States Secret Service has received reporting of a well-organized Nigerian fraud ring exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to commit large-scale fraud against state unemployment insurance programs,” the memo said.
A California-based cybersecurity firm Agari said on Tuesday, May 19, that “some if not all” of those who committed the fraud are part of a Nigeran fraud group Scattered Canary.
Although Washington State was the primary target, evidence of the fraud was seen in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Florida.
Abidemi Rafiu is linked to fraudulent unemployment in, at least, two of those states; Wyoming and Massachusetts.
In reaction to the report, the Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun has suspended Mr Rafiu with immediate effect.
The Governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Kunle Somorin, confirmed the suspension of Rafiu on Tuesday.