A federal judge in New York ruled Friday that a suspended Nigerian government official charged in last year’s massive unemployment fraud in Washington state can be released from detention before trial, but delayed the release to let federal prosecutors appeal.
Abidemi Rufai, 42, who was arrested May 14 as he attempted to travel from New York to Nigeria, was denied bail earlier this week after his brother, a New York attorney, declined to post a $300,000 surety bond.
Federal prosecutors had argued that Rufai was an extreme flight risk. He is charged with using stolen identities to pilfer more than $350,000 in jobless benefits from the Washington state Employment Security Department last year.
But on Friday, Federal Magistrate Judge Ramon Reyes ruled that a New York state resident and family friend of Rufai’s could post the bond and serve as Rufai’s custodian until his trial in federal court in Tacoma.
Nekpen Soyemi, a registered nurse whose family comes from the same region of Nigeria as Rufai, told Reyes she would guarantee a $300,000 bond and allow Rufai to stay at her and her husband’s home while Rufai awaits trial. Rufai also would be restricted to travel in New York City and Western Washington and would be monitored with electronic surveillance.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors in Seattle sent a letter to Reyes raising questions about, among other things, funds allegedly deposited into a bank account in Soyemi’s name.
At Friday’s hearing, Soyemi, who said she was born in Brooklyn, told Reyes that her father had opened the bank account for her when she was in college. Soyemi said she had no knowledge of the bank account transaction funds referred to by prosecutors.
Reyes delayed Rufai’s release until Tuesday to allow federal prosecutors time to appeal the order. Reyes also noted that Rufai would need to address an immigration detainer issued against him Sunday by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Under that detainer, Rufai could be picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers after his release and potentially held for deportation.
Michael Barrows, Rufai’s attorney, said the conditions of his bail “were appropriate to secure his future attendance in court.”
On Friday, federal prosecutors were already preparing their appeal.
“Justice requires that Mr. Rufai face these charges in the Western District of Washington,” said Emily Langlie, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Washington. “The government will take all necessary steps to ensure that occurs.”
Langlie added, “In any instance where a defendant is being released to a surety and a residence, the government does its due diligence to ensure the residence and those monitoring the defendant are qualified for the task.”
According to media accounts, Rufai was appointed as a senior special assistant on housing for Ogun Gov. Dapo Abiodun last August, around the time federal prosecutors say he returned to Nigeria after approximately five months in the U.S. Earlier this week, a spokesperson for Abiodun told the Nigerian newspaper The Vanguard that Rufai had been suspended from his post.