A Nigerian man, Abidemi Rufai was on Friday arrested at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport by federal agents as he was about leaving the country over his alleged involvement in Washington state’s $650 million unemployment fraud.
Abidemi Rufai of Lekki, Nigeria 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.
Tessa Gorman, acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, in a statement on Monday said, “This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud”.
The federal complaint also provides a detailed glimpse into the scale of the pandemic-related fraud as well as the methods – some of them surprisingly unsophisticated – fraudsters used to pilfer unemployment systems in Washington and other states.
Rufai, 42, is scheduled for a detention hearing Wednesday as case will be prosecuted in federal court in Tacoma.
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.
The ESD acting Commissioner Cami Feek in a statement on Monday said, “I want to thank our partners in law enforcement for their continued efforts to hold criminals accountable for their attacks on our unemployment insurance system.
Rufai was represented by an assistant federal public defender at Saturday’s hearing.