Tobechi Onwuhara, ringleader of $40 million scam, nabbed overseas

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Local,Virginia,Crime,Scott McCabe,Alexandria

The mastermind of a $40 million bank fraud scam that was uncovered after prosecutors said he tried to swindle the chief of staff of a powerful U.S. senator has been captured overseas and brought to federal court in Alexandria to face charges.

Tobechi Onwuhara, 33, one of the FBI's Top 10 Most Wanted cybercriminals, had been on the run for more than four years before his capture in Australia three months ago.

Onwuhara was extradicted to the U.S., and brought to federal court on Friday to face charges accusing him of a home equity line of credit fraud scheme that attempted to steal more than $38 million and caused approximately $13 million in losses.

The scheme unraveled in 2007 when Robert Short, an Alexandria resident and former chief of staff for Sen. Strom Thurmond, D-S.C., discovered $280,000 had gone missing from his U.S. Senate Federal Credit Union account, according to an affidavit.

Onwuhara posed as Short and transferred the money from Short's home equity line of credit to Short's checking account, then transferred the funds to conspirators around the globe, charging papers say.

The calls were recorded by the financial institutions and investigators were able to eventually link them to Onwuhara and his crews.

Authorities used a "sneak-and-peek" search warrant to stop Onwuhara at John F. Kennedy International Airport on his return from Nigeria, documents said.

During the interview, the FBI agents asked him about unrelated information and confirmed Onwuhara as the same voice that pretended to be Short, court records said. He was also in possession of a cellphone whose number had been linked to fraudulent calls.

Onwuhara was let go and the FBI continued its investigation.

In August 2008, he was charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and a federal warrant was issued for his arrest. But he had already fled the country.

Onwuhara was indicted in 2011 with additional charges, including continuing a financial crimes enterprise, aggravated identity theft, wire fraud, money laundering and other related offenses.

His case was featured on "America's Most Wanted." According to the show, Onwuhara flashed cash rolls with up to $50,000 at strip clubs, and at different times drove a Bentley, a Maserati and a Rolls-Royce. He also owned a recording studio and started his own rap label, S.W.A.T. Up Entertainment.

smccabe@washingtonexaminer.com

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