Authorities make first arrest in Washington unemployment scam
Authorities arrested a Nigerian citizen suspected of playing a role in a scam that saw nearly $650 million get paid out in fraudulent unemployment claims in Washington state last spring.
Abidemi Rufai, 42, was apprehended last Friday by authorities at John F. Kennedy Airport, and faces charges for stealing the identities of over 100 Washington residents, which he then allegedly used to file fraudulent claims with the Employment Security Department for benefits.
Similar claims were also said to have been filed by Rufai in Hawaii, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania. That saw law enforcement track over $288,000 deposited into an American bank account in Rufai’s name between March and August of 2020.
“Greed is a powerful motivator,” FBI Seattle Special Agent in Charge Donald Voiret said in a written release. “Unfortunately, the greed alleged to this defendant affects all taxpayers. 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.”
Rufai appeared to have avoided automated fraud detection systems by using “variations of a single e-mail address” to apply for benefits, connecting each claim to a different account.
At the time, the scam forced ESD to delay payments to all unemployment claims, as it worked to identify the size and scope of the operation.
If convicted, Rufai could face up to 30 years in prison for wire fraud.
According to acting Washington U.S. Attorney Tessa Gorman, more arrests are expected to come in the near future as well.
“This is the first, but will not be the last, significant arrest in our ongoing investigation of ESD fraud,” she said in a written release.