Abidemi Rufai, 42, the suspended Senior Special Assistant to Ogun State Governor On Housing who was arrested by FBI for an employment scam, appeared in federal court in New York on Saturday on charges that he used the identities of more than 100 Washington residents to file bogus unemployment claims with the Washington state Employment Security Department during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, according to the federal complaint. It was the first “significant” arrest in that fraud, federal officials said.He faces up to a possible 30 years in jail if convicted.
On Tuesday, federal prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington in Seattle filed papers arguing that Rufai presents “an extreme risk of flight” and requesting that he be held in custody until his trial in federal court in Tacoma.
Rufai’s attorney, Michael C. Barrows of Garden City, New York, said his client “denies any involvement in these transactions.”
Rufai is scheduled for a detention hearing Wednesday in New York. Barrows, Rufai’s attorney, said his client doesn’t represent a flight risk, in part because Rufai has given up his passport.
Further, Rufai could be prevented from fleeing through “less restrictive means than having him remain in jail,” including travel restrictions and electronic surveillance, said Barrows.
He noted that defendants accused of substantially larger financial crimes have avoided pretrial detention. “You have white-collar criminals [such as] insider traders who steal millions of dollars who are released on their own recognizance,” Barrows said
Federal prosecutors contended that Rufai does indeed represent a flight risk.
In Tuesday’s filings, federal prosecutors noted that Rufai was attempting to leave the country at the time of his arrest and that he has “strong ties to Nigeria, and no ties at all (apart from this fraud) to the Western District of Washington.”
Rufai also has economic resources “that could facilitate his flight from prosecution,” federal prosecutors said. Although Rufai told law enforcement authorities he had just $16,000 in his bank accounts, he “was preparing to board a first-class flight to Nigeria with five debit cards and two credit cards in his wallet, a luxury Cartier watch, seven pieces of luggage, and three smartphones on his person,” federal prosecutors noted.
Further, if Rufai were able to “escape to Nigeria, extradition will be extraordinarily difficult or impossible because of his ties to the Nigerian government,” federal prosecutors added.