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Two Nigerians risk 32 years in jail for allegedly defrauding US of $25m COVID benefits



Sakiru Olanrewaju Ambali, a Nigerian citizen residing in Canada, has been extradited by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Washington. He is alleged to have engaged in fraudulent activities related to pandemic unemployment benefit programs across multiple U.S. states.

According to information obtained by ThePressNG Nigeria, Ambali, aged 45, was apprehended in February 2023 while traveling from Nigeria to Canada through Frankfurt, Germany. He had been held in German custody pending extradition, as confirmed by a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Friday.

The individual in question made an appearance in the U.S. District Court in Tacoma on Friday at 2 pm, having arrived in the Western District of Washington the previous Thursday.

Ambali, alongside his co-defendant Fatiu Ismaila Lawal (also 45 years old), stands accused of utilizing the stolen identities of numerous American individuals. Their alleged scheme involved submitting more than 1,700 claims for pandemic unemployment benefits across over 25 states, including Washington State.

According to the indictment, Lawal and Ambali used the stolen personal information of thousands of U.S. taxpayers and residents to file fraudulent claims for COVID-19 pandemic assistance and false tax returns seeking refunds.

The claims sought approximately $25 million, but the conspirators obtained roughly $2.4 million, primarily from pandemic unemployment benefits.

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.

he 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.

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.

According to the indictment, the co-conspirators had the proceeds of their fraud sent to cash cards or to “money mules” who transferred the funds according to instructions given by the co-conspirators.

They also allegedly used stolen identities to open bank accounts and have the money deposited directly into those accounts for their use.

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

Lawal remains in Canada, pending extradition.

The conspiracy and wire fraud counts are punishable by up to 30 years in prison.