SAN FRANCISCO, February 24, (THEWIL) – A notorious US born Nigerian fraudster who was placed on the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ‘Most Wanted list’ has been captured after eluding authorities for over four years.
Mr. Tobechukwu Enyinna Onwuhara, 33, described as ‘a criminal mind’ by the FBI for stealing $44 million dollars from US banks using sophisticated methods, including stealing bank customers’ personal information, Home Equity Lines of Credit details and account numbers, was nabbed in far away Australia.
THEWILL had previously reported how the conman escaped arrest in the state of Florida and went underground afterwards.
The FBI did not say how and when Onwuhara was captured but a mug shot of the scammer on its websitehttp://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber/image/onwuhara-captured/view listed him as ‘captured.’
FBI agents say Onwuhara was born in Houston and sent to live with his wealthy Nigerian father, Prince Doris Onwuhara who the Bureau say is a ‘well-known con man who made a fortune from the notorious Nigerian 419 scheme’ before returning to the United States when he reached his teenage years in 1999.
Having settled in the southern state of Texas, he got a job with US lender, Capital One Financial Corporation where authorities believe he gained insider knowledge on how to work the US financial system.
His first brush with the law happened in April 2002 when he was arrested by Lewisville city police in Lewisville, Texas after police got a tipoff that he may be using stolen identification to steal money from credit card accounts. When police raided his apartment, they found stolen credit card account numbers, fake driver’s licenses and materials used to forge identification.
Same year in December in the western state of Seattle, FBI said ‘Onwuhara walked into a local bank and tried to max out the cash withdrawal limit on a stolen credit card’ but fled the bank when he sensed trouble. He was said to have jumped into a waiting car driven by a friend of his, Abel Nnabue and they led Seattle police on a high-speed chase but were eventually caught when they tried to flee on foot.
Both men were charged, convicted and sentenced to two years in a Seattle prison but spent only eight months of their sentence for good behaviour.
After their release, they relocated to Texas and went low for a while until sometime in 2005 when the real estate market was at an all time high and Home Equity Lines Of Credit loans became available. Though it was harder to steal from Home Equity Lines of Credit, Onwuhara and his co-conspirators found a way around it.
FBI say Onwuhara painstakingly researched home owners credit reports to see if they opened home lines of credit accounts and how much they had available. At this time in the real estate market, it was very common to find homeowners with $300, 000 – $ 400, 000 in home equity.
Onwuhara impersonated such homeowners after learning their passwords and home phone numbers through extensive research.
The Nigerian acquired multiple prepaid phone lines and wireless internet cards to prevent anyone from successfully tracing their numbers. He then also signed up to a spoofing service which allowed a home owner’s number appear on the bank representative’s caller ID when he called a bank to request a wire transfer from the account to a home owner’s regular checking account before the funds are eventually wired to accounts in Asia and then the monies would go to a Hawala in Africa.
‘Hawalas’ are funds transfer systems that are not regulated instead, they operate on trust. ‘Brokers or Hawalanders would take a cut and then transfer the money to an African Bank, eventually returning to a US bank,’ according to America’s Most Wanted.
Most of the funds returning to the United States came through accounts belonging to Precious Matthews or one of the other conspirators.
Investigators say Onwuhara made most of the calls himself but when an account belonged to a female, he would get his girlfriend, Precious Matthews to make the call while other co-conspirators would be delegated other duties including finding new home owners with equity in their homes.
According to FBI records, Onwuhara and his crew had stolen more than $20 million dollars before the bureau were notified of the scam and by the time the FBI penetrated their well-organized syndicate and learned their identity, they had stolen an additional $20 million dollars.
To learn their identity, the FBI contacted Verizon Wireless, a prepaid wireless company after it learned they were using prepaid internet services provided by the company to log into bank accounts and were able to obtain surveillance videos of three men paying for the service at one of the provider’s stores.
In the spring of 2008, the FBI got a break when they also found out that Onwuhara was using a spoofing service and they contacted the provider who made more than 1500 audio recordings available to them. As expected, most of the recordings were conversations between Onwuhara and various bank representatives, but unfortunately for Onwuhara someone from his crew had also used the phone to call a pharmacy pretending to be a doctor and ordered a prescription for Tobechi Onwuhara. This was a huge lead for the FBI. When they ran Onwuhara’s name, there was a match in their database where they found out he had been arrested before for bank fraud.
When they matched his photo with the surveillance videos obtained from the telecommunications company, they believed they had their man.
Gradually, they started their investigations and tried to learn the identity of his co-conspirators. This was when they discovered that Onwuhara had left Miami for Nigeria with a brief stopover in New York.
The FBI waited for Onwuhara and his travelling companions to return to the country and decided to stop him at the airport after he had rerouted his ticket several times.
The Bureau said they wanted him to believe he was being questioned as a possible terrorist and he fell for it by giving them information that eventually linked him to the fraud.
Before August 1, 2008, FBI agents already knew Onwuhara and his girlfriend, Matthews lived in their $5000 a month mansion near Miami in Florida. As they were making their way to a Florida casino with their crew on that day, agents and local police decided they had enough evidence to take them in. While they were effecting their arrest, agents realized that Onwuhara had entered the casino and believed Matthews sent a text message to him that they were being arrested and he managed to get away.
FBI said before they took the gang down, Onwuhara would spend about $50, 000 a night in a strip club up to three times in a week and usually stayed at various five star hotels whenever he made his frequent travels.
Onwuhara according to the Bureau has stashed cash abroad and also shipped many luxury cars to Nigeria- all paid for in cash.
They believe he is hiding in either Canada; Miami, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; or New Jersey.
His co-conspirators have since been sentenced to various jail terms:
Henry ‘Uche’ Obilo, 30, Miami: Sentenced to 88 months in prison.
Abel Nnabule, 34, Dallas: Sentenced to 54 months on Jan. 30, 2009.
Precious Matthews (Onwuhara’s girlfriend): Sentenced to 51 months on Feb. 13, 2009.
Brandy Anderson, 31, Dallas, Sentenced to two years of supervised probation and 40 days of community confinement on Feb. 20, 2009.
Ezenwa Onyedebelu, 21, Dallas, Sentenced to 37 months on Feb. 27, 2009.
Daniel Orjinta, 43, Nigeria: Sentenced to 42 months on March 06, 2009.
Paula Gipson, 34, Dallas, Sentenced to 15 months on September 04, 2009.
Additional information provided by AMW.