Tobechi Onwuhara, Ringleader of Massive Cybercrime Syndicate, Gets 5 Years and 10 Months in Jail

January 15, 2014 by David S. Seltzer

34-year-old Tobechi Onwuhara, a Nigerian native who recently pled guilty to charges of leading a conspiracy to commit computer fraud, money laundering, and bank fraud, will serve 5 years and 10 months behind bars. Onwuhara and his associates were convicted of stealing nearly $100 million in home equity lines of credit.

Before U.S. District Court Judge, Claude Hilton, issued the sentence, Onwuhara publicly apologized to victims: “I’d like to take responsibility for my actions… I’d like to ask the court to give me an opportunity to go out and be a father to my child.”

The Court formally charged Onwuhara -- along with 8 other Nigerian associates -- with conspiracy to commit bank fraud back in August, 2008. Police captured the other members of the syndicate, but Onwuhara escaped the country before authorities could find him.

Australian forces finally captured him in their country in 2012 and returned him to the United States for trial. According to the FBI, Onwuhara and the other members of the alleged conspiracy (Obinna Orji, Henry Oubilo, Abel Nnapue, Precious Matthews, Brandy Anderson, Daniel Orjinta, Ezenwa Onyedebelu, and Paula Gipson) embarked on a sophisticated, rigorous, international program that targeted account holders with large amounts of money in home equity line of credit (HELOC) accounts.

The conspirators obtained and verified information about victims and their account balances, and then used that knowledge to dupe financial institutions into transferring funds to other accounts overseas. The conspirators then drew down cash from these accounts.

Onwuhara et al used prepaid cell phones, caller ID spoofing technology, and other tools and tactics to carry off the operation.

The criminal process lasted from 2006 to 2008; some victims included members of the State Department Credit Union and the U.S. Senate Federal Credit Union.

After pleading guilty, Onwuhara could have faced nearly six decades behind bars along with a fine of $1,705,000. However, the Judge opted for a more lenient path, possibly because Onwuhara promised to make full restitution to the victims and return jewelry he had bought with proceeds from the crimes. Federal rules do allow judges to reduce sentences, if/when defendants cooperate.

Lessons for Your Florida Cybercrime Defense?

1. When charged with a crime like Florida computer fraud, do not dodge authorities and flee to another country.

Onwuhara was very fortunate that he only ended up with 5-year, 10-month prison sentence. Under different circumstances -- especially considering that he fled the country -- a judge could have given someone like Onwuhara a much longer jail sentence.

2. An aggressive defense is a must.

Do not assume that prosecutors will go easy on you, just because this was your first offense or because you've demonstrated remorse and a desire to "make things right." Prepare aggressively and thoroughly to counter the charges.

3. Avoid “reinventing the wheel” with respect to your defense.

If you haven’t yet retained counsel for your Florida cybercrime defense, connect with the team here at Seltzer Law, PA at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) for a thorough, confidential, and strategic case evaluation. We’re available 24/7 to discuss your case, put you at ease and help you rebuild your life.