US-based Malaysia woman duped a Republican official into giving her hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest in a fake Nigerian oil venture.
Siew Im Cheah, 51, persuaded Jimmy Rhee, who at the time was Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s assistant commerce secretary, that she had connections in the oil and entertainment businesses and convinced him to invest $300,000 in the venture.
“She was always creating, manipulating a fictitious situation and environment,” Rhee told the Washington Post last week, adding that Cheah had financial documents that appeared to bolster her claims. “She was a master at that.”
Rhee said he once visited Cheah while she was sick and saw flowers with a card that appeared to be signed by former President Barack Obama, which he now believes she sent to herself. When he started asking Cheah to pay him back, she brought up her plans to build a training facility for the Washington Wizards.
The supposed partner for that project was Lawrence Jones, who was her boxing coach. Shortly after they met, she bought Jones a Porsche and urged him to pursue his dream of owning a gym. He said the situation turned into a “nightmare.”
“I felt obligated to be at her beck and call,” Jones said.
Cheah would call him in the middle of the night and demand that he come to her hotel for meetings with visiting oil executives still on African time. None of the business deals moved forward.
“She was telling me that her dad was killed in a plane crash that had been hijacked by terrorists,” he said. “It was so elaborate. Who would make something up like this?”
Jones cut off contact with her after about a year.
Among the lies she told her other victims: she planned to buy a majority stake in the Wizards, she was the granddaughter of Singapore’s first prime minister, and she was a close friend of Obama’s.
Prosecutors said Cheah stole the identities of at least six people, including her roommates and nail technicians. One federal prosecutor referred to her as “a one-woman crime spree” in court. They believe she spent the money on high-end cars, plastic surgery, and designer handbags.
Earlier this year, Cheah, who entered the United States on a visitor’s visa in 2001, pleaded guilty to identity theft and fraud after she was caught speeding in Virginia in a Porsche using a former roommate’s driver’s license. She was sentenced on Oct. 4 to 51 months in prison.
“She’s been a very generous woman,” her attorney Bill Hicks said. “People invest money all the time; sometimes they win, sometimes they lose.”