Fugitive Arrives in US to Face Charges for HELOC Scam

Allison Tussey —  March 4, 2013 — Leave a comment

Tobechi Enyinna Onwuhara, 33, formerly of Dallas, Texas, has been arrested in Australia after more than four years as a fugitive and brought to the United States to face charges accusing him of leading a home equity line of credit fraud scheme that attempted to steal more than $38 million and caused approximately $13 million in losses.

Onwuhara was charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and a federal warrant was issued for his arrest on August 1, 2008. He was later indicted by a federal grand jury on April 21, 2011, and charged with 16 counts, including conspiracy, continuing financial crimes enterprises, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, money laundering, and computer fraud. If convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a maximum penalty of life in prison, followed by a consecutive mandatory two years in prison for each count of aggravated identity theft.

Information seeking Onwuhara‘s arrest was made available through the FBI, and he was arrested by Australian Federal Police on December 18, 2012, pursuant to a provisional arrest warrant issued by the United States.

Onwuhara made an initial appearance before United States Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis today, March 1, 2013, at 2 p.m. at the federal courthouse in Alexandria.

According to court records, Onwuhara is the alleged 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 allegedly used other online databases to obtain information commonly used in security questions, such as the victim’s mother’s maiden name. The conspirators then allegedly obtained credit reports on the victims in order to verify personal information and account balances.

Armed with a victim’s personal information, the conspirators allegedly 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 allegedly wire transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars to domestic or overseas accounts controlled by members of the conspiracy. The conspirators allegedly 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 allegedly 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 alleged conspiracy have been convicted in the Eastern District of Virginia:

Obinna Orji, Arlington, Texas, who was a fugitive since being charged in August 2008, was arrested in December 2012 and pleaded guilty on February 19, 2013. Sentencing scheduled on May 17, 2013.

Henry “Uche” Obilo, Miami, Florida, was sentenced to 88 months in prison on September 11, 2009.

Abel Nnabue, Dallas, was sentenced to 54 months on January 30, 2009.

Precious Matthews, Miami, was sentenced 51 months on February 13, 2009.

Brandy Anderson, Dallas, was sentenced to two years of supervised probation and 40 days of community confinement on February 20, 2009.

Ezenwa Onyedebelu, Dallas, was sentenced to 37 months on February 27, 2009.

Daniel Orjinta, Nigeria, was sentenced to 42 months on March 6, 2009.

Paula Gipson, Dallas, was sentenced to 15 months on September 4, 2009.

Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office; David E. Beach, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service’s Washington Field Office; Earl L. Cook, Alexandria Chief of Police; and Robert W. Mathieson, United States Marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia, made the announcement after Onwuhara arrived in the Eastern District of Virginia.

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. Assistant United States Attorneys Alexander T.H. Nguyen and Lindsay Kelly are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.

Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.

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Allison Tussey

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