Nigerian citizen charged with defrauding Washington unemployment of over $350,000


One year ago: The Labor Department said the wave of layoffs that had engulfed the economy since the virus struck had caused another 5.2 million people to seek unemployment benefits, raising the total number of laid-off workers to 22 million; it was the worst run of U.S. job losses on record. 

SEATTLE (AP) — A Nigerian man suspected in Washington state’s $650 million unemployment fraud was arrested Friday at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport by federal agents as he allegedly attempted to leave the country.

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.

Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman announced the arrest on Monday.

RELATED: Oregon won’t say how much it has lost to unemployment fraud

“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,” Gorman said. “This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud.”

Rufai is accused of using the stolen identifies of more than 100 Washington state residents to file for pandemic-related unemployment benefits. He is also accused of filing for unemployment benefits in Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania.

To make the claims seem more legitimate, he allegedly used a different email address for each recipient and had payments  wired to bank accounts controlled by entities that transfer illegal money known more casually as “money mules.”

RELATED: Data breach compromised info of 1.6M who sought unemployment

According to the Justice Department, local law enforcement determined that the suspect stashed more than $288,000 in an American bank account between March and August of 2020. Rufai faces up to 30 years in prison for his crime as wire fraud associated with a presidentially declared emergency like a pandemic accrues greater charges.

FBI Special Agent Donald Voiret of the Bureau’s Seattle office offered the following comments:

“Greed is a powerful motivator.  Unfortunately, the greed alleged to this defendant affects all taxpayers,” Voiret said. “The FBI and our partners will not stand idly by while individuals attempt to defraud programs meant to assist American workers and families suffering the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.”


RELATED: Gov. Brown lifts mask requirement for fully vaccinated people in Oregon