Man pleads guilty to stealing more than $600,000 of COVID unemployment benefits in Tacoma

A Nigerian citizen, and former Nigerian government aide, pleaded guilty to COVID-19 unemployment fraud on 18 states in Tacoma on Tuesday.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ), 45-year-old Abidemi Rufai of Nigeria pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for using stolen identities to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars in government relief benefits. 

Rafai has been in custody since his arrest at JFK Airport in New York in May 2021. At the time of his arrest, Rufai was the Special Assistant to the Governor of Nigeria’s Ogun State. 

According to the plea agreement, since 2017, Rufai has been stealing personal identify information for more than 20,000 Americans to submit more than $2 million worth in claims for federally funded relief programs. 

The largest amount of fraud was committed against the Washington State Employment Security Department, which paid out $350,763 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits. Rufai also submitted fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims in at least 17 other states. 

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In 2017, Rufai submitted 49 disaster relief claims connected to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. Between 2017 and 2020, Rufai attempted to obtain more than $1.7 million in IRS tax refunds by submitting 675 false claims. In total, the agencies he scammed paid out more than $600,000. 

On Tuesday, Rufai agreed to pay full restitution to the defrauded agencies. Prosecutors have agreed to recommend no more than 71 months in prison.

A U.S. District judge will officially sentence Rufai on August 15, 2022.