Two Nigerians risk 30-year jail term in US over COVID unemployment benefit ‘fraud’

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Sakiru Ambali, a 45-year-old Nigerian man, has been arraigned before a US district court over allegations of wire fraud.

 

Ambali was arrested in Frankfurt, Germany, as he travelled to Canada from Nigeria, while another Nigerian, Fatiu Lawal, was arrested in Toronto, Canada, where he resides. They were both arrested in February 2023.

 

Lawal and Ambali were alleged to have used the stolen personal information of thousands of US taxpayers and residents to file over 1,700 fraudulent claims for COVID-19 pandemic unemployment benefits.

 

Although the total claims sought was approximately $25 million, the accused persons allegedly obtained approximately $2.4 million, primarily from pandemic unemployment benefits. 

 

According to the US attorney’s office, Western District of Washington, “the co-conspirators allegedly submitted claims for pandemic unemployment benefits to more than 25 states including New York, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, California, and Washington”.

 

“Using 13 Google accounts they filed some 900 claims. The co-conspirators also allegedly established four internet domain names that they then used for fraud – creating some 800 different email addresses that were used for fraud,” the statement reads.

 

“Lawal and Ambali allegedly filed over 2,300 fraudulent income tax returns seeking over $7.1 million in tax refunds. The IRS caught most of the fraud and paid only about $30,000 in fraudulent refunds.

 

 “The co-conspirators also attempted to use the stolen American identities for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) to defraud the small business administration.”

 

Lawal and Ambali were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 10 counts of wire fraud and six counts of aggravated identity theft.

 

Lawal remains in Canada, pending extradition while Ambali made his first court appearance on Friday.

 

The conspiracy and wire fraud counts are punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Aggravated identity theft is punishable by a mandatory minimum of two years in prison.

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