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Release of Nigerian unemployment fraud suspect is delayed pending appeal

SEATTLE — A federal judge in New York ruled Friday that a suspended Nigerian government official charged in a Washington state case of unemployment fraud can be released from detention before trial.

However, Federal Magistrate Judge Ramon Reyes delayed the release to let federal prosecutors appeal, The Seattle Times reported.

Abidemi Rufai, 42, was arrested May 14 as he tried to travel from New York to Nigeria. He was initially denied bail after his brother, a New York attorney, declined to post a $300,000 surety bond.

Rufai is accused of using stolen identities to take more than $350,000 in jobless benefits from the Washington state Employment Security Department last year.

Prosecutors had argued that Rufai was an extreme flight risk. But 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 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 home pending trial. Rufai also would be restricted in 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, including one about money allegedly deposited into a bank account in Soyemi’s name. Soyemi told the judge that her father had opened the account for her when she was in college. She said she had no knowledge of the transaction referred to by prosecutors.

Reyes delayed Rufai’s release until Tuesday. He also noted that Rufai would need to address an immigration detainer issued against him 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.” Barrow did not immediately return phone and email messages from The Associated Press seeking further comment.

Federal prosecutors said they were preparing their appeal.

Read More: Release of Nigerian unemployment fraud suspect is delayed pending appeal

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