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How ex-Nigerian official pulled off a spectacular U.S. covid aid heist

IRS Scams

How ex-Nigerian official pulled off a spectacular U.S. covid aid heist


Ex-Nigerian official defrauded American taxpayers by stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in coronavirus relief benefits

(Washington Post illustration; U.S. District Court; iStock)
(Washington Post illustration; U.S. District Court; iStock)


On a perfect spring day at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Abidemi Rufai arrived at the international terminal ready for the long journey back home to Nigeria.

On his wrist, Rufai, 44, wore an expensive Cartier watch. Around his neck, he wore an 18-karat gold chain with a lion pendant. As he approached the check-in desk for his business class seat on the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight, Rufai had seven pieces of luggage, three smartphones, and seven debit and credit cards.

It was May 2021. A year earlier, Rufai had pulled off a spectacular heist of U.S. taxpayer money. The calm with which he moved through the airport belied the chaos he had left in his wake.

His brazen and repeated pilfering of coronavirus relief funds had helped freeze the entire unemployment system in the state of Washington, where he had obtained identifying information for unsuspecting residents. For months, state and federal officials struggled to get ahead of Rufai and other fraudsters, sparking investigations on two continents that culminated in a guilty plea. Eventually, they would discover in Rufai’s email accounts and phone the personal data of 20,000 Americans and voluminous stolen tax returns, as well as photos of Rufai with a…

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