Abidemi Rufai, a former side to Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, was wearing a $10,000 watch and $35,000 gold chain when he was arrested at JFK International Airport in New York on his way to Nigeria in May 2021.
Rufai pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington, in May to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges, and Judge Benjamin Settle issued the sentence Monday. The judge also ordered Rufai to pay more than $600,000 in restitution.
Prosecutors said the 45-year-old had a history of defrauding the U.S. government, including using stolen identities to file for emergency relief after hurricanes in Texas and Florida.
“When disaster struck, so did Mr. Rufai,” Seattle U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said in a news release. “Whether it was hurricane disaster relief, small business loans, or COVID unemployment benefits, he stole aid that should have gone to disaster victims in the United States.”
Such fraud was rampant in pandemic relief programs, according to the U.S. Labor Department’s inspector general, who said last week that $45.6 billion may have been paid out improperly in unemployment insurance from March 2020 to April 2022.
The Justice Department filed charges against dozens of people in Minnesota last week in connection with a $250 million fraud scheme that exploited a federally funded child nutrition program during the pandemic.
Rufai, of Lekki, Nigeria, has a master’s degree and is politically connected in his home country, prosecutors said. He had purported to run a sports betting company since 2016, his finances were opaque and his main source of income apparently was defrauding the U.S. government.
He was known as a prolific political fundraiser, and in 2019, he ran unsuccessfully for Nigeria’s National Assembly, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cindy Chang and Seth Wilkinson wrote in a sentencing memo.
Between April and October 2020, he use a cache of stolen identities — investigators found more than 20,000 of them, with birthdates and social security numbers in one of his email accounts — to file for pandemic-related benefits. He applied with the workforce agencies of at least nine states, including Washington’s Employment Security Department, in the names of at least 224 Americans.
Just after returning to Nigeria in August 2020, Rufai was appointed as a special aide to the governor of Nigeria’s Ogun State. He was featured in news magazines, photographed with a luxury Mercedes sport-utility vehicle he had purchased with stolen funds and had shipped to Nigeria.
Rufai later returned to the U.S., and on May 15, 2021 — just a day after prosecutors filed an amended complaint against him — he was arrested trying to leave the country on a business class flight. In recorded phone conversations from jail he discussed moving a large amount of money immediately following his arrest, prosecutors said.
Rufai apologized in a letter to the court, saying “my actions are outrageous and inexcusable.” He blamed them on gambling addiction and pressure to provide for his wife and children.
“Your honor, I am now a rehabilitated man that is ready to live a crime-free life and also be a responsible man to my family and my community as a whole,” he wrote.
The defense requested a 2.5-year sentence, citing letters from supporters who wrote that Rufai had a charitable foundation that helped pay educational fees for primary students. The Justice Department sought nearly six years, saying a longer term was necessary in part to deter others who might commit similar crimes.
David Nwamini, Ekweremadu accuser, seeks asylum in UK
” they will kill me if I come to Nigeria” — he pleads to court
The three were found guilty at the Old Bailey of conspiring to arrange the travel of a young man with a view to exploiting him for his body part.
The Ekweremadus’ 25-year-old daughter, Sonia, has a severe kidney disease. It was for her the donor was sourced and brought to the UK.
According to David, he was approached with an opportunity to work in the UK, which he had always dreamed of but never thought would happen.
“He (Dr Obina Obeta) did not tell me he brought me here for this reason. He did not tell me anything about this.
“I would have not agreed to any of this. My body is not for sale.
“I worry for my safety in Nigeria. Those people can do anything. I think they could arrest me or kill me in Nigeria.
“My plan now is to work and to get an education and to play football,” David said, adding that he does not want to claim compensation from the “bad people” as it would be “cursed and bad luck”.
He also said someone visited his father in Nigeria and asked the father to get him to drop the case.
Although it is lawful to donate a kidney, it becomes criminal if there is a reward.
The Ekweremadus were arrested on June 21 last year as they arrived at Heathrow Airport.
UK court shuns Nigeria, ECOWAS pleas as it sentences Ekweremadu to 10 years imprisonment for organ trafficking
Nigeria missing as UNCTAD lists top African countries in service exports.
Nigeria was not listed among the top five countries in Africa in service exports in 2021 as Egypt tops the list as announced by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in December.
Morocco followed Egypt in services exports then Ghana, South Africa, and Ethiopia.
Egypt also came third on the list of the top five countries regarding goods exports in Africa in 2021 by around $40 billion, achieving growth of around 60 percent year-on-year.
In maritime routes, Egypt was preceded by Morocco, South Africa, then Ghana, and Togo.
Earlier this month, Egypt announced a plan to develop Egyptian commodity exports to African countries to reach $15 billion during the coming few years.
Egypt’s exports to Africa have increased by 25.4 percent during Q1 2022 compared to Q1 2021, the Cabinet said in a statement in mid-December.
According to Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Egypt’s exports to the African Union countries have reached more than $5.4 billion in 2021 compared to around $3.9 billion in 2020.
Libya, Sudan, Morocco, Algeria, and Kenya received more than 60 percent of Egyptian exports, according to CAPMAS.
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