What To Do When You're Stopped By Police - The ACLU & Elon James White
What To Do When You're Stopped By Police - The ACLU & Elon James White
Know Anyone Who Thinks Racial Profiling Is Exaggerated? Watch This, And Tell Me When Your Jaw Drops.
This video clearly demonstrates how racist America is as a country and how far we have to go to become a country that is civilized and actually values equal justice. We must not rest until this goal is achieved. I do not want my great grandchildren to live in a country like we have today. I wish for them to live in a country where differences of race and culture are not ignored but valued as a part of what makes America great.
‘Despite a high-profile scandal, Cyril Ramaphosa consolidated support from the party that has dominated South Africa since independence. But with misery rising, can the A.N.C. retain its hold?
JOHANNESBURG — President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa resoundingly won a second term as leader of the governing African National Congress on Monday, overcoming attacks from within his highly factionalized party and an embarrassing scandal involving what he said was the theft of more than a half-million U.S. dollars stuffed in a sofa on his farm.
His victory, announced during the A.N.C.’s national conference in Johannesburg, makes him the front-runner for a second term as South Africa’s president after elections scheduled for 2024. The chosen leader of the A.N.C., the party with a majority of seats in Parliament, has become the nation’s president in every election since 1994.
The A.N.C., the party of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, was once known worldwide for bringing down the apartheid regime after a decades-long fight. But it has struggled to transform itself from a liberation movement into a governing party, political analysts say, selecting leaders based on what they accomplished during the struggle against apartheid rather than competency in government.
Internal leadership battles have distracted the party from policy debates over how to solve the country’s most pressing problems. There are daily power outages for hours at a time, about one-third of the population is unemployed and gaping inequality is corrosive — with manicured estates butting up against tin-shack settlements without running water.
“You have constant paralysis and logjam,” said William Gumede, a political scholar who has chronicled the A.N.C.’s transition.
In the 2024 election, the A.N.C. faces the real prospect of falling below 50 percent of the national vote for the first time since South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. If that happens, the party will be forced to team up with other parties to retain power and ensure Mr. Ramaphosa’s second term as president.
“It’s at a crossroads,” said Mmamoloko Kubayi, who has served on the A.N.C.’s executive committee. She said she hoped Mr. Ramaphosa’s re-election “changes the posture of the organization and where it’s going.”
Mr. Ramaphosa’s party remains as divided as ever, analysts and even some of its members have said. Some of the conflicts are ideological — like differences over how aggressively the government should move to seize and redistribute land.
Yet most of the fights have little to do with policy, A.N.C. officials concede. They are more about personality, regional and ethnic alliances, and winning positions in government in order to control how public money is spent.
What to Know About Cyril Ramaphosa and ‘Farmgate’
Who is Cyril Ramaphosa? Before he was sworn in as South Africa's president in 2018, Mr. Ramaphosa was a former labor leader who became a wealthy businessman. During his campaign, he pledged to root out corruption. He was later accused of a cover-up involving a stash of money stolen from one of his properties.
What is “Farmgate”? According to the accusations, in 2020, burglars stole a fortune in U.S. dollars stashed in furniture at Mr. Ramaphosa’s farm. The president never reported the theft to the police or disclosed it publicly but apparently started an off-the-books investigation and paid the suspects to keep quiet. Mr. Ramaphosa has denied any wrongdoing relating to the theft.
“Our experience of recent years is that disunity does not arise from ideological, political or strategic differences amongst us,” Mr. Ramaphosa told delegates during his opening address at the conference on Friday. “But it arises from a contest over positions in the state, and resources that are attached to them.”
Mr. Ramaphosa, 70, faced an aggressive challenge for party leadership from Zweli Mkhize, his former health minister. But Mr. Ramaphosa emerges from the conference in a strong position, having won 2,476 votes to Mr. Mkhize’s 1,897.
In addition, four of Mr. Ramaphosa’s allies were elected to the highest leadership positions, known as the “top seven.” During the last A.N.C. conference five years ago, only one person aligned with Mr. Ramaphosa entering the conference was elected to a top leadership position. And one of those elected then was a loyal lieutenant of Jacob Zuma, Mr. Ramaphosa’s predecessor, and his nemesis.
“The biggest hindrance of his presidency has been the fact that he was governing with people who want to destroy him,” said Sithembile Mbete, who teaches political science and international relations at the University of Pretoria.
Now, with the leadership support he asked for, an economy unshackled from the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic and five years under his belt, Mr. Ramaphosa will face intense pressure to deliver.
“We expect delivery speedily, and problems facing our people must be solved,” said Lebogang Maile, an A.N.C. official who supported Mr. Mkhize.
During the conference, the results of the A.N.C.’s paralysis were on stark display about a 10-minute drive away in Soweto. With the power out yet again, many residents sat outside, listening to music from their cars.
People seemed resigned that this was what they could expect of life under A.N.C. rule.
Cynthia Maake, 74, said she always voted for the party, even though she believed that its members stole. “Everyone eats money when they’re in that position,” she said.
Ms. Maake’s granddaughter, Boitumelo Maake, 36, bakes her own bread to save money and lost her job during the pandemic. She said she believed that Mr. Ramaphosa was the best the A.N.C. had to offer, despite his own brush with scandal.
“We worry that should they put someone like Jacob Zuma again, then we’ll be worse,” she said, referring to the leader who resigned after being implicated in a raft of corruption. “We worry, what’s next?”
Mr. Ramaphosa has pleaded for patience ever since he became the leader of the A.N.C. in 2017, and the president of South Africa the following year. He and his allies say that the problems gripping the nation are embedded so deeply that they will take time to resolve. They also have pointed to the pandemic and to adversaries within the A.N.C. and the government as impediments to accomplishing his goals.
Mr. Ramaphosa’s supporters hailed his re-election as a stabilizing force for the country that will give him a chance to see his agenda through. The fact that the party’s rank and file supported him suggests that his message may resonate with ordinary South Africans too, analysts said.
He still has several land mines to navigate, however.
Mr. Ramaphosa is facing at least two law enforcement investigations over allegations that he covered up a burglary at his game farm, Phala Phala Wildlife, in 2020. He has denied any wrongdoing, saying that the stolen money, $580,000, was the proceeds of the sale of buffaloes, and that a manager at the farm hid it in a sofa for safekeeping.
Mr. Ramaphosa had risen to power on a platform of rooting out corruption. He was seen as a pragmatic leader, and a darling of the West who operated under the tutelage of Mandela. But the Phala Phala incident tarnished his reputation.
Mr. Ramaphosa survived an impeachment effort in Parliament last week, but the scandal opened space for Mr. Mkhize to mount a serious challenge for the leadership post.
Mr. Mkhize, 66, had his own baggage. He was forced to step down from his job as minister last year after becoming embroiled in a scandal in which his ministry awarded a lucrative communications contract to a company owned by close associates.
To some, the battle between Mr. Ramaphosa and Mr. Mkhize represented the shortcomings of the A.N.C.: Both candidates were men, over 65 and facing corruption accusations. The party’s leadership is too male, too old and too tainted by corruption, critics say.
The A.N.C. did for the first time at this conference elect more than one woman to a top leadership position — three women are now among the top seven.
But perhaps the most important outcome for the party is that, for the moment, it is not consumed by talk of a scandal involving its leader.
“You don’t have to worry about whether there’s going to be a recall or not,” said Ms. Kubayi, who served on the executive committee. “He’s been re-elected, and there isn’t any panic around it. That stability is important.”
His allies expect him to use his power to clean up the party itself.
“There are a lot of criminal elements that we’re beginning to see using the name of the African National Congress,” said Zizi Kodwa, the deputy state security minister and a member of the party’s national executive committee. “For renewal to succeed, we’ve got to be firm on discipline.”
“The publication of former President Donald J. Trump’s private tax documents comes amid questions about why the I.R.S. failed to fully audit him during his presidency.
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This is a developing story. Times reporters are reviewing thousands of pages of documents. Check back for updates.
WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Friday released six years of former President Donald J. Trump’s tax records, making the closely guarded documents public after years of legal battles and speculation about Mr. Trump’s wealth and his financial entanglements.
The release came 10 days after Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee published two reports about Mr. Trump’s taxes as part of an inquiry into the Internal Revenue Service’s practice of conducting mandatory audits on presidents while they are in office. The reports found that the I.R.S. failed to audit Mr. Trump during the first two years of his presidency and did not begin the examination process until 2019, after House Democrats initiated oversight proceedings in an attempt to gain access to his tax records.
“Our findings turned out to be simple — I.R.S. did not begin their mandatory audit of the former president until I made my initial request,” Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said in a written statement on Friday.
While much of the information in the tax returns has already come to light, including through the two reports released last week, the full records from 2015 through 2020 are expected to provide a rare window into the complexity of Mr. Trump’s finances and whether he may have profited from tax policies he signed into law as president. Those include the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which provided a series of tax breaks and cuts for businesses and wealthy people.
The data released last week showed that during the first three years of his presidency, Mr. Trump paid $1.1 million in federal income taxes but paid no tax in 2020 as his income dwindled and losses mounted. During his first year as president, Mr. Trump paid $750 in federal income tax and reported $12.9 million in losses.
The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, which reviewed Mr. Trump’s tax returns for the House Ways and Means Committee, found several red flags in the former president’s filings that it said warranted further investigation. Those included transactions with his children and a deduction that he took related to the settlement of fraud claims against the now defunct Trump University.
Tax returns are among the most privately held documents in the United States. Although Congress has the power to obtain and release them, it rarely takes such action.
After Mr. Trump broke with tradition and declined to release his returns as a presidential candidate or while he was in office, Democratic lawmakers sought them out of concern about potential conflicts of interest. Ultimately, they were able to unlock them using their oversight powers through the inquiry into the I.R.S. policy of auditing presidents and vice presidents.
In 2020, after obtaining data from more than two decades of Mr. Trump’s tax returns, The New York Times traced the boom-and-bust arcs of his financial history: dubious tax avoidance, huge losses and a life buttressed by an inherited fortune. The newly released tax returns show how that pattern extended through his years in Washington.
The reports issued by the Ways and Means Committee also highlighted how outgunned the I.R.S. was in dealing with the army of lawyers, accountants and tax professionals hired by Mr. Trump to defend him in the audits of his returns before, during and after his presidency.
“With over 400 flow-thru returns reported on the Form 1040, it is not possible to obtain the resources available to examine all potential issues,” I.R.S. agents said of Mr. Trump’s tax returns in an internal memo that the committee released last week.
Republicans warned that the release of a private individual’s tax returns would set a dangerous precedent and lead to public pressure for G.O.P. lawmakers to respond by releasing other sets of tax returns once they take control of the House next week.
In a closed-door hearing last week that preceded the party-line vote to release Mr. Trump’s returns, Republicans specifically raised the possibility of releasing tax information related to President Biden’s family — most likely including his son Hunter Biden.
“Going forward, all future chairs of both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee will have nearly unlimited power to target and make public the tax returns of private citizens, political enemies, business and labor leaders or even the Supreme Court justices themselves,” Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement on Friday.
“This is a regrettable stain on the Ways and Means Committee and Congress,” Mr. Brady added, “and will make American politics even more divisive and disheartening. In the long run, Democrats will come to regret it.”
Alan Rappeport reported from Washington, and Jim Tankersley from St. Croix, V“
“Ex-Nigerian official defrauded American taxpayers by stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in coronavirus relief benefits
On a perfectspring 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.
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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 powerful Nigerian governor and images of him dressed impeccably in dark sunglasses and royal-blue robes. In one, he sat on an ornate thronelike chair.
The Covid Money Trail
It was the largest burst of emergency spending in U.S. history: Two years, six laws and more than $5 trillion intended to break the deadly grip of the coronavirus pandemic. The money spared the U.S. economy from ruin and put vaccines into millions of arms, but it also invited unprecedented levels of fraud, abuse and opportunism.
In a yearlong investigation, The Washington Post is following the covid money trail to figure out what happened to all that cash.
Rufai had managed to escape the United States for relative safety in Nigeria in late 2020, just months after his heist. Remarkably, he later returned. Now,as he approached the ticket agent, six law enforcement officers were positionednearby,watching him.
Some of it was nabbed by U.S. criminals, but a chunk went to foreign nationals who had honed their tacticsin defrauding people through identity theft and scamsover years and saw in the pandemic a chance to hit it big. Rufai’s wild tactics and dramatic life story — laid out in vivid detail in court documents — offers a startling view of one of the many accused scam artists who siphoned riches from the huge money pot created by Washington in 2020 and 2021.
This articleis based on interviews with nearly 20 people in the United States and Nigeria,including state and federal officials. It is also based on a review of government records in both countries, including letters from Rufai and his friends and family members, details of bank account transfers, and transcripts of his jailhouse calls. Through his lawyer, Rufai declined to be interviewed. His lawyer also declined to answer questions about the case.
The details paint a portrait of how a seasoned identity thief hit the jackpot when covid funds began to flow, preying on a tremendous amount of money that was suddenly thrust into the economy in a way that made it very easy to steal. His previous efforts at defrauding the U.S. government amounted to less than $100,000 over three years,according to federal prosecutors. But in a span of six months in 2020, he was able to swipe more than half a million dollars, prosecutors said. He was one of the most prolific thieves but joined hundreds of others, both international and domestic, who overwhelmed government officials trying to protect billions of dollars.
Rufai emerged from a difficult and abusive childhood and rose to the upper echelons of Nigerian politics, where by his own telling he imbibed a culture of corruption. He adopted the tactics of Nigerian scam rings and honed his fraud skills in the years leading up to the pandemic, all the while burdened with a lingering gambling addiction. And once he committed his most dramatic theft of U.S. taxpayer funds, he indulged in a lavish and splashy lifestyle.
“Every time I reflect back to my actions, I feel so ashamed and so disgusted,” he said at his sentencing hearing on Sept. 26, according to a court transcript. “Why did I even get myself into this in the first place?”
A scheme pays off
Rufai was born in Ogun State, in Nigeria’s southwest. His father ran a large poultry farm and had five wives and 13 children, according to a memorandum submitted to the court by Rufai’s lawyer that sought leniency in sentencing. Rufai’s mother abandoned the family when he was a baby, and his upbringing was a harsh one, with little affection and regular beatings and yelling. When he was a teenager, his father beat him in the head with a cane and fractured his skull as punishment for leaving the house without permission, according to the memorandum.
Rufai initially struggled to gain admission to university but eventually attended college and graduate school, borrowing money from family and friends and working menial jobs to make it through. At university, his focus was diverted by a gambling addiction, which began with playing dice with friends and escalated into visiting casinos.
“The gambling got into me,” Rufai’s sentencing memorandum quotes him as saying. “If you gamble, you want money all the time.”
After finishing his university studies, he struggled to find work, which he attributed to a system of nepotism in Nigeria. He married in 2014 and found it challenging to fulfill his many obligations.
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“After I got married all my burdens increased because I had to take care of my wife, my younger siblings and my sick mother that all depended on me,” Rufai wrote to the judge in his case.
By 2017, Rufai was supplementing his business endeavors through theft from U.S. government programs, according to prosecutors. It is unclear how or why he entered this world, but his tradecraft, as revealed in documents filed in U.S. federal court, drew from tactics used frequently by Nigerian criminal rings.
Rufai traveled to the United States regularly, visiting three times between 2017 and 2021 and staying for months at a time. Between 2017 and 2020, he submitted 675 fraudulent claims to the Internal Revenue Service for tax refunds, using the stolen data of real Americans, according to a plea agreement he signed in May. The claims were worth more than $1.7 million, though he only received around $91,000.
He also targeted disaster victims. In August and September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Harvey devastated parts of Florida, Louisiana and Texas. Rufai used the stolen personal information of 49 Americans to request hurricane relief benefits, according to his plea agreement. Thirteen of these claims were paid out, totaling $6,500.
At Rufai’s September sentencing hearing, his attorney, Lance Hester, attributed one motivation behind the fraud to his client’s gambling addiction.
“He learns of this scheme, he is introduced to it, he tries his hand at it, and much like gambling, a slot machine or rolling dice with others, occasionally the scheme pays off,” Hester told the judge, according to a transcript. “And just when it seems over, he gets a payoff. And meanwhile he is desensitized. But he just does it.”
As he was launching his forays into fraud, Rufai was also entering the world of Nigerian politics, motivated, he would later say, by the country’s endemiccorruption. In 2018, he challenged an incumbent and ran for a seat on Nigeria’s house of representatives as a member of the All Progressives Congress party, or APC.
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“Ready and Committed to serve with Trust and Ethics,” one of Rufai’s campaign posters read; “The choices we make are ultimately our responsibility,” read another. Later,when recounting his life story in court documents, Rufai had a cynical take on Nigerian politics, stating in his sentencing memorandum that winning requires the buying of votes.
“Almost everything in Nigeria is corrupt,” he was quoted as saying, with his lawyersattributing his actions at least in part to a culture of corruption that had been all he knew since he was a child. Rufai lost the vote in the February 2019 election and “wasted a lot of money” on the campaign, his lawyers later wrote.
After his loss, he applied for a visa to the United States, and arrived in February 2020, just as the coronavirus was rapidly spreading throughout the country. He told the U.S. government that he would stay with his brother in Queens. The New York borough would soon become an epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus pandemic. Hospitalsnear his brother’s home were overwhelmed with sick and dying patients.
By late March, the federal government had passed the Cares Act, a $2.2 trillion aid package that included more generous unemployment benefits. To get the money out fast in a dire time, the federal government allowed some applicants for the program to “self-certify” their eligibility without providing proof, a feature that auditors said raised the risk of fraud. Stealing these funds from one person wouldn’t be much of a heist. But stealing this money from a lot of people would lead to a big payday.
In the United States, as help started flowing from the federal government, Washington state’s unemployment office almost immediately began getting calls from residents wondering when their enhanced unemployment checks would arrive, said Suzi LeVine, the former employment security commissioner for the state. Washington had one of the country’s first known coronavirus cases, and by March 28, the state was receiving 28 times more unemployment claims than it had just three weeks prior.
“We’re facing this unbelievable amount of pressure,” LeVine said. She and her colleagues slept little and worked constantly during those weeks and months.
Washington had a modernized unemployment insurance system compared with other states and relatively high base unemployment benefits, and it was able to integrate the extra federal benefits into its regular state payments by April 18, sooner than many other states. But that success was part of its undoing, making it a lucrative early target for fraudsters.
“Because we were at the tip of the spear, we were attacked first,” LeVine said.
Over the course of a single week in late April and early May, Rufai created several Washington state unemployment accounts, according to court records. In his email account, Rufai was storing the private data of more than 20,000 Americans, investigators later wrote in court documents, giving him ample information with which to submit fraudulent claims.
In the same time period, his bank account in Nigeria received the equivalent of approximately $10,000 in deposits, according to Nigerian law enforcement records obtained by The Washington Post.
Simultaneously, he was building his profile locally. A local magazine published stories on Rufai’s donations of food packages to the needy and party faithful, describing the latter as a “stimulus payment.”
In all, a Citibank account in Rufai’s name received over $288,000 in deposits and $237,000 in withdrawals between March and August 2020, U.S. investigators found. Rufai’s Nigerian accounts received deposits between mid-March and mid-May totaling at least $75,000, according to an affidavit by an investigator with Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which was filed in Nigerian court and obtained by The Post. The affidavit notes that before mid-March, the account had rarely received “such traffic and huge inflows.”
To evade detection by Washington state, Rufai used a simple but incredibly effective method to mask his Gmail address as a way to avoid tripping fraud alerts. Rufai inserted periods into different parts of his email address, email@example.com, to file multiple applications.
In the same week that Rufai was opening his unemployment accounts and donating food to party supporters, LeVine said she began receiving messages from people she knew who said their companies had received unemployment claims for them even though they were still working. They asked what on earth was happening. Federal investigators had also noted the spiking fraud risks.
“By early May, late April was when we were starting to realize this was a huge deal,” said Seth Wilkinson, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Seattle.
Indeed, Rufai was one part of a massive wave of cyber fraud that had launched within days after the extra federal benefits became available. In an alert to states, the U.S. Secret Service said people outside of Washington were receiving multiple bank deposits from the state’s unemployment benefits program, all in the names of different people with no link to the account holder. Rufai obtained his data on Americans through “unlawful means,” according to his plea agreement, including by misusing an IRS tool meant to help students apply for financial aid. Auditors and cybercrime experts in general alsopointed to massive data breaches in recent years that have left millions of Americans’ information exposed and vulnerable to abuse.
In all, state auditors estimated thieves stole $647 million from Washington’s pandemic unemployment benefits, with $402 million recovered as of October, said a spokeswoman for the Washington Employment Security Department.
Around 9 p.m. on May 12, LeVine was riding her stationary bike at home when she received a text from a colleague in state government who had received a letter from the unemployment agency asking for more information on a claim made in the person’s name. One problem: The person was still employed by Washington state.
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LeVine searched through the internal unemployment claims system and found several other colleagues, still employed, who had supposedly made claims.
“It was like watching the taillights of the getaway car,” she said.
LeVine and her colleagues felt they had to take drastic action to have a chance of reining in the theft. The next day, on May 13, they shut off the entire system, halting payments to more than a million people — including many legitimately unemployed Washingtonians struggling to survive during the pandemic.
“It was a sledge hammer, not a surgical tool, and it was an awful thing to have to do,” she said.
The halt, which lasted three days, gave analysts time to understand the commonalities between suspected fraudulent claims.
But the shutdown and ongoing efforts to fight fraud had a cost, too: More employees were assigned to fraud prevention, delaying payments to the needy, especially those with more complicated employment histories. And some characteristics of the fraudulent claims — using nontraditional financial services to receive funds, receiving money in accounts under different names than the unemployment claim — are also common among peoplewithout access to banks, tribal or other communities who share bank accounts or immigrants.
And the state anti-fraud effortsdid not immediately stop Rufai, according to court documents. On May 18, someone using Rufai’s email address submitted a claim to Washington state and directed that it be paid out to a woman in Richland, Mo. The next day, her account received nearly $10,000 from Washington state, as well as another $9,000 from the Maine Department of Labor. The woman later said she withdrew $11,000 of the funds and sent the money to an address in Queens — Rufai’s brother’s apartment. The government believes the woman, who is elderly, was an unwitting “money mule” used by Rufai to transfer funds.
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Prosecutors believe Rufai had been one of the more prolific scammers, at least in the early days of the pandemic. His email account “was among the accounts that filed the most suspected fraudulent claims in Washington state,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Cindy Chang, who along with Wilkinson prosecuted Rufai.
Soon federal investigators were on to him. Washington state had handed investigators a database of email accounts used to submit claims during the period of heavy fraud. Rufai’s email address had been used to make 102 claims that were worth more than $350,000 in Washington state, the database showed. Ultimately, prosecutors alleged in court documents that Rufai had submitted at least 224 fraudulent unemployment claims to nine states, netting a total of $497,000, as well as 19 fraudulent loan applications for pandemic-related federal programs for businesses, through which he received one $10,000 grant.
On June 19, 2020, investigators asked Google for information on the account and learned that a phone number associated with the account had been provided on Rufai’s 2019 U.S. visa application, according to an FBI affidavit filed in court.
Still, Rufai remained free and began buying expensive luxury goods. In July, he purchased a Mercedes-Benz G63 SUV from a New Jersey dealership for $71,620, paying with a combination of checks and cash. Such luxury vehicle purchases are a common method of laundering funds, Chang said.
Investigators were compiling evidence, but the case was incredibly complicated, involving multiple states and a raft of crimes. Rufai was able to leave the United Statesfor Nigeria on Aug. 9, 2020. His newly purchased Mercedes would arrive there several weeks later, according to court documents.
The federal agents investigating Rufai were triaging large amounts of information as they looked into dozens of targets simultaneously, Chang said.
“The gathering of the initial data about fraudulent claims was a huge undertaking,” she said.
FBI Special Agent Andrea DeSanto, one of the main investigators on the case, said the Rufai investigation was “complex and multifaceted.”
“We were still working to attribute the claims data to him as an individual at that time,” she said.
Four days after leaving the United States, Rufai was named a senior special assistant to Dapo Abiodun, the governor of Ogun State. He waspaid$2,000 as his official salary, but also received $50,000 for “introducing people to the governor,” his lawyers later told the federal court. It was much higher than the average Nigerian’s salary.
Political observers and cybercrime experts in Nigeria noted the timing of Rufai’s ascent to power — just after he had committed his most successful fraud yet in the United States.
“These guys go into fraud, and they use it to go into politics,” said Udim “Manny” Manasseh, who runs FutureLabs, a tech hub that trains Nigerians to use their skills for legitimate business rather than crime.
On Rufai’s phone, investigators later found pictures of him in what appeared to be the November 2020 edition of a magazine called Gateway Times Nigeria. In the photos, Rufai was dressed in deep-blue robes and dark sunglasses and identified as a “property merchant.” Publisher Dayo Rufai told The Post in WhatsApp messages that he is close friends with Abidemi Rufai but is unrelated to him. Dayo Rufai declined to say whether Gateway Times Nigeria ever published the cover issue featuring Abidemi Rufai.
“Never Mock People in Their Trying Times,” the magazine cover quotes Rufai as saying. Other pictures investigators found showed Rufai in the driver’s seat of the Mercedes SUV he had purchased in the midst of his covid relief fraud.
A scramble, then an arrest
In January 2021, investigators asked Google for the contents of the firstname.lastname@example.org account and its associated Google Drive account. When Google provided the information in February, investigators were astonished.
The account contained over 1,000 emails from the Washington state unemployment agency, personal data for more than 20,000 Americans and “a very large volume” of Americans’ realpersonal tax returns. They also found evidence that Rufai had targeted U.S. businesses and that his frauds on the American government stretched back to at least 2017.
In a major misstep, Rufai also had stored photos of himself on the account.
The haul was “pretty shocking,” said FBI Special Agent Heidi Hawkins, one of the lead agents investigating Rufai. Investigators could now pinpoint him with some certainty as the perpetrator of the fraud.
As long as Rufai was overseas, however, he would be difficult to bring into custody. Nigeria has an extradition treaty with the United States, but such requests require far more work and coordination between U.S. government agencies than a typical prosecution, experts said. Rufai’s status as a serving government official affiliated with the ruling party would probably make the matter even more complicated.
Then came a breakthrough in May 2021. Federal agents had requested Rufai’s travel records and found to their surprise that he had flown back to the United States in March. They also discovered that he was due to get on an outbound flight on May 14.
They had just two days, or he’d be gone again, perhaps for good.
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“I felt a bit of satisfaction knowing that we could possibly bring someone to justice who’s been defrauding the American government,” Hawkins said.
To make that happen, DeSanto, Hawkins, their Justice Department colleagues in Seattle and fellow agents in New York had to scramble, compressing investigative and legal steps that would normally take weeks into the span of 48 hours. On May 13, DeSanto and Hawkins flew from Seattle to New York, spending most of the flight preparing a complaint detailing evidence against Rufai. On May 14, they spent the day with their New York colleagues preparing for the arrest.
Around 7:45 p.m., Rufai approached the Royal Dutch Airlines check-in desk, unaware that the ticketing agents had been contacted by the FBI. As he chatted with the deskagent, DeSanto and Hawkins approached him, along with two of their male colleagues. He was “actually receptive and asked what was going on,” Hawkins recalled.
DeSanto told Rufai that he was under arrest, read him his rights and put him in handcuffs. Rufai pleaded guilty this year to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. He was ordered to repay more than $600,000 and in September, he was sentenced to five years in prison. His Cartier watch and gold chain, which the Justice Department had valued at $45,000, were recently put up for auction by the federal government. The high bids for the items as of early December would repay less than 1 percent of his debt.
Yeganeh Torbati joined The Washington Post in 2020 as a reporter writing about the tax, budget, trade and regulatory decisions made by Washington’s power brokers. Twitter“