News and Press Releases

Ringleader of Multi-Million Dollar Home Equity Line of Credit Fraud Scheme Sentenced to 70 Months in Prison After Years as a Fugitive

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 20, 2013

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Tobechi Enyinna Onwuhara, 34, formerly of Dallas, Texas, was sentenced today to 70 months in prison for conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and computer fraud, all in relation to a home equity line of credit fraud scheme that attempted to steal more than $38 million and caused approximately $13 million in losses.  His prison term will be followed by five years of supervised release.

Dana J. Boente, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office; Kathy A. Michalko, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service’s Washington Field Office; Earl L. Cook, Alexandria Chief of Police; and Robert Mathieson, United States Marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia, made the announcement after sentencing by United States District Judge Claude M. Hilton.

After more than four years as a fugitive—during which Onwuhara was featured on “America’s Most Wanted”—Onwuhara was arrested in Australia, brought to the United States, and pleaded guilty on June 21, 2013.  According to court documents, Onwuhara was the ringleader of a group of Nigerians who used fee-based web databases to search for potential victim account holders with large balances in home equity line of credit (HELOC) accounts.  This information included name, address, date of birth, and social security number.  Once the conspirators identified a victim, they used other online databases to obtain information commonly used in security questions, such as the victim’s mother’s maiden name.  The conspirators then obtained credit reports on the victims in order to verify personal information and account balances.

Armed with a victim’s personal information, the conspirators called the victim’s financial institution, impersonated the victim, and transferred the majority of the available money from the HELOC account into an account from which a wire transfer could be sent.  The conspirators would then wire transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars to domestic or overseas accounts controlled by members of the conspiracy.  The conspirators used caller-ID spoofing services, prepaid cell phones and PC wireless Internet access cards, and transferred victims’ home telephone numbers in order to impersonate the victim and avoid identifying themselves. 

Once the fraudulently-transferred funds arrived in the destination bank, a conspirator with access to the account would withdraw funds and transfer them to other members of the conspiracy after taking a portion of the proceeds for himself.  The following members of this conspiracy have been convicted in the Eastern District of Virginia:

  • Obinna Orji, from Arlington, Texas, who was a fugitive since being charged in August 2008, was arrested in December 2012, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 72 months in prison on May 17, 2013.
  • Henry “Uche” Obilo, of Miami, Florida, was sentenced to 88 months in prison on Sept. 11, 2009.
  • Abel Nnabue, of Dallas, was sentenced to 54 months on Jan. 30, 2009.
  • Precious Matthews, of Miami, was sentenced 51 months on Feb. 13, 2009.
  • Brandy Anderson, of Dallas, was sentenced to 2 years of supervised probation and 40 days of community confinement on Feb. 20, 2009.
  • Ezenwa Onyedebelu, of Dallas, was sentenced to 37 months on Feb. 27, 2009.
  • Daniel Orjinta, of Nigeria, was sentenced to 42 months on March 6, 2009.
  • Paula Gipson, of Dallas, was sentenced to 15 months on Sept. 4, 2009.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, United States Secret Service, and the Alexandria Police Department, with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service.  Assistance also was provided by the Australian Federal Police, who located Onwuhara in Sydney and helped coordinate the recovery of evidence and the defendant’s extradition to the United States.  Assistant United States Attorney Alexander T.H. Nguyen and Lindsay Kelly prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.justice.gov/usao/vae.  Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov or on https://pcl.uscourts.gov.

 

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