SAN ANTONIO - The FBI is investigating a fraud ring accused of bilking several banks and customers - including San Antonio-based USAA and the former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond - out of at least $44 million.
A Houston man is in custody here and agents are looking for a Nigerian man from Dallas featured on the television show America's Most Wanted. They are believed to have posed as customers to fraudulently withdraw money from bank accounts, including one at USAA that was tapped for $98,000.
The case is linked to a $44 million case in Virginia, said Erik Vasys, spokesman for the FBI in San Antonio.
Earlier this week, Adedeji Omarici Oyekan of Houston appeared in federal court in San Antonio, charged with financial institution fraud and conspiracy to commit financial institution fraud. The charges are related to the $98,000 stolen from the USAA account. He was ordered held without bail.
Authorities are looking for Tobechi "Tobe" Onwuhara, the alleged mastermind. He is under investigation in Seattle, where he once lived, and is alleged to have led a ring of people from Nigeria who accessed online databases to steal personal information for use in defrauding banks, records show.
USAA is working aggressively with authorities on the investigation, said a spokesman for the insurance and financial services company.
The ring targets customers who have a large balance in a home equity line of credit, and use the stolen personal information to transfer money to "mule" bank accounts. Mule accounts are opened by people who agree to let the ring use the accounts for a cut of the stolen money.
In USAA's case, Oyekan, Onwuhara and other ring members are accused of using the information to telephone USAA and pretend to be customers. The ring provided enough biographical information about one customer to persuade USAA to wire transfer $98,000 from the customer's account to mule accounts at Citibank in New York and Woodforest Bank in Houston, court records show.
Onwuhara has a past that involves credit card fraud, and authorities say he researched and tested his skills until he was successful.
Court records said he splits his time between Miami and Dallas, but could be in Atlanta, New Jersey or Canada.
With the stolen proceeds, authorities allege, he lived in a $600,000 home in Miami and rented a condo in Dallas for $4,000 a month, according to a segment featuring him on America's Most Wanted.
Among his victims is Sen. Thurmond's former chief of staff, according to the show.
Onwuhara flashed up to $50,000 at strip clubs, 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.
Onwuhara's fiancee, Precious Matthews, a Baylor alum, is among nine people charged with him in Virginia. Matthews, of Miami, is primarily responsible for calling financial institutions and persuading them to wire transfer money out of victims' accounts and laundering the proceeds, the affidavit said.