A Nigerian citizen is facing wire fraud charges after allegedly stealing more than $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department.
Police arrested Abidemi Rufai, who also goes by the name Sandy Tang, 42, of Lekki, Nigeria, at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City on Friday.
Rufai made his initial court appearance on Saturday and is due back in court for a detention hearing on Tuesday.
“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 Tessa M. Gorman in a statement. “This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud.”
A criminal complaint alleged that Rufai used the stolen identities of more than 100 residents of Washington state to obtain pandemic-related employment benefits fraudulently.
Rufai also allegedly filed fake unemployment claims in several other states, including Wyoming, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New York, Montana, and Pennsylvania.
Court documents stated that Rufai used variations of a single email address to avoid being detected by fraud prevention systems. He allegedly funneled the money into online accounts such as “Green Dot” or wired to bank accounts run by “money mules.”
Investigators said more than $288,000 was funneled into an American bank account under Rufai’s control from March to August 2020.
If convicted of the wire fraud charges, Rufai could spend up to 30 years behind bars.
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