Gov Abiodun’s aide, Abidemi Rufai to remain in US prison as court adjourns case to 2022

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A Nigerian politician, Abidemi Rufai, facing fraud charges in the United States, will be languishing in jail for the remaining months of the year, with his trial postponed to 2022.

Mr Rufai, a suspended aide of Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, is accused of defrauding the U.S. government to the tune of $350,000 in COVID-19 unemployment claims.

He was arrested in the Eastern District of New York while trying to jet out of the country on May 24.

Judge Benjamin Settle of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, at Tacoma, on June 25, adjudged him to represent a flight risk and ordered he should be attending his trial from jail.

A copy of a fresh ruling of the court revealed the postponing of the commencement of the trial by five months.

The trial earlier scheduled to commence on August 31, has now been postponed to February 1, 2022, by the order of the court.

Mr Settle’s order changing the trial date is based on the agreement between the prosecution and the defence, both of whom have described the case as “unusual and complex”.

With about 97,000-page material already filed by the U.S. government as evidence against Mr Rufai, both parties admit that more time is needed to prepare for the case.

The judge granted the agreed motion on August 3, the same day, the parties filed it.

Granting the application for the postponement, in agreement with the parties, the judge said that the case “is so unusual and complex, due to the nature of the prosecution and the volume of discovery.”

Therefore, “it would be unreasonable to expect adequate preparation for trial within the time limits,” Mr Settle said.

“The court agrees that counsel cannot reasonably be expected to prepare for trial in the time allowed under the existing schedule, taking into account the exercise of due diligence,” the judge said in his ruling.

He added, “The COURT FINDS that the ends of justice will best be served by acontinuance and outweigh the best interests of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial, within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(A).

“The COURT FINDS that the failure to grant such a continuance in this case would likely result in a miscarriage of justice because the government and the defendant would be denied the reasonable time necessary for effective preparation, taking into account the exercise of due diligence. 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B)(i) and (iv).”

Ruling that “the period of delay is reasonable,” Mr Settle “ORDERED that, for the reasons stated herein and the additional reasons provided in the agreed motion, trial of this matter is hereby continued to February 1, 2022”.

He said pretrial motions “shall be filed no later than December 9, 2021”, and fixed pretrial conference for January 24, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.

Charges
Mr Rufai, who is on the growing list of Nigerians charged with cybercrime-related offences in the U.S, was arrested in the Eastern District of New York when he was trying to jet out of the U.S. on May 24.

He is accused of using the identities of more than 100 Washington residents to steal more than $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

He is said to have bypassed security systems at the Washington ESD using a simple feature of Google’s free Gmail service.

On May 26, a grand jury approved an indictment charging him with 15 counts of fraud.

The charges filed at the District Court in Tacoma comprise conspiracy to commit wire fraud, nine counts of wire fraud, and five counts of aggravated identity theft.

He was arraigned before the court on June 25. He denied the charges by pleading not guilty to all counts.

The court then scheduled trial for August 31 and set a pretrial motions deadline of July 23