Nigerian Nationals Face 30-Year US Jail Term For Alleged COVID Unemployment Benefit Scam
Sakiru Ambali, a 45-year-old Nigerian, has been presented before a US district court on charges of wire fraud. Ambali was apprehended in Frankfurt, Germany, during his journey from Nigeria to Canada, while another Nigerian, Fatiu Lawal, was arrested in Toronto, Canada, where he resides. Their arrests occurred in February 2023.
The allegations against Lawal and Ambali revolve around their purported use of stolen personal information from numerous US taxpayers and residents. They are accused of filing over 1,700 fraudulent claims for COVID-19 pandemic unemployment benefits. Although the claims totaled around €22.99 million, the pair allegedly acquired approximately €2.21 million, primarily through pandemic unemployment benefits.
The US attorney’s office for the Western District of Washington stated that the co-conspirators submitted claims to over 25 states, using 13 Google accounts for about 900 claims. Additionally, they created four internet domain names and around 800 email addresses for fraudulent purposes.
Lawal and Ambali are further accused of attempting to exploit stolen American identities for Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) to defraud the small business administration.
Both individuals were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 10 counts of wire fraud, and six counts of aggravated identity theft. The potential penalties for conspiracy and wire fraud include up to 30 years in prison, while aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison. Lawal remains in Canada awaiting extradition, while Ambali had his initial court appearance on Friday.