Governor Dapo Abiodun has suspended his aide Abidemi Rufai who was arrested in the United States last week for an alleged $350,000 COVID-19 unemployment fraud.
Rufai was arrested on Friday at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport by federal agents as he allegedly attempted to leave the country.
He appeared in federal court Saturday on charges that he 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 during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
“This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud,” said Tessa Gorman, acting US attorney for the Western District of Washington, in a statement Monday.
Rufai is scheduled for a detention hearing Wednesday.
His arrest comes almost a year after officials announced they were temporarily suspending unemployment benefits payments after discovering that criminals had used stolen Social Security numbers and other personal information to file bogus claims for federal and state unemployment benefits.
Within days, officials disclosed that “hundreds of millions of dollars” had likely been stolen in a fraud scheme that law enforcement officials and cybercrime experts said was partly based in Nigeria.
A statement signed by the governor’s spokesman Kunle Somorin on Tuesday reads: “The Ogun State governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, has received the very disturbing news of the arrest of one of his political appointees, Mr. Abidemi Rufai, in New York over alleged unemployment benefits fraud in the United States.
“In view of the gravity of these allegations, the Governor has ordered the immediate suspension of the accused appointee.
“The Governor wishes to restate his commitment to an open, transparent, accountable and morally upright Administration and will not condone any act bordering on criminality by anyone.”
A statement by the US Department of Justice noted that “wire fraud is punishable by up to 30 years in prison when it relates to benefits paid in connection with a presidentially-declared disaster or emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.”
A House of Representatives aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Congress in the 2019 election, Rufai was appointed senior special assistant to Governor Abiodun in August 2020.