After a time the two became suspicious. There were inconsistencies in her stories, the abettor wrote. They wondered about her array of sports cars and alike her age. They asked for their money back; to date, they accept not gotten it, the abettor wrote.
Neither accept best added victims of the woman, whose absolute name is Siew Im Cheah. Over the accomplished two decades, prosecutors say the Malaysia-born con artist, now 59, has baseborn at atomic six identities and several fortunes. From Virginia to California she would booty on the personas of her attached and attach technicians, again use those identities to accumulation from a alternation of scams.
One federal prosecutor declared her in cloister as “a one-woman abomination spree.” Another, in a sentencing motion, said she “has able the art of character theft.”
She assertive able athletes and acknowledged admiral she was the granddaughter of Singapore’s aboriginal prime abbot and a abutting acquaintance of President Obama. The money they gave her for declared investments in Nigerian oil and D.C. sports they now accept she spent on high-end cars, artificial anaplasty and artist handbags.
“Had we accepted she was not actuality honest about her absolute identity, age and bent background, we never would accept trusted her,” the sports abettor wrote in a letter to the court. She “is actual artful and has credible no anguish for the heartaches she has caused.”
She can ‘infiltrate the mind’
Cheah pleaded accusable this year in Alexandria federal cloister alone to character annexation and fraud, accepting been bent dispatch through southwest Virginia in a Porsche with an old roommate’s driver’s license.
Up until her Oct. 4 sentencing, at which Adjudicator T.S. Ellis III put her in bastille for 51 months, Cheah’s accurate character was in question.
“I’m a little abashed about what name to use for you,” Ellis told the small, quiet woman with chin-length atramentous beard streaked white.
She said her name was Sau Hoong Lee, and her advocate said she was 66 years old. Prosecutor Gordon Kromberg jumped up in objection.
“She’s not 66 years old, the woman whose character she blanket is 66 years old. She’s 59,” he declared. “Sau Hoong Lee is aloof addition character which she stole.”
Court annal say her victims included a chef, a trainer, assorted manicurists and an appointee of a Virginia governor. The sports abettor beneath to animadversion and his client, a arresting Redskins amateur who was not called in cloister papers, did not acknowledgment requests for comment.
Victims declared a mix of acrimony and awe at Cheah’s near-mystical admiral of persuasion. At aboriginal she was personable and affectionate. She wowed them with her adorned cars and clothes and credible admission to the affluent and famous. But some said she anon became ambitious and aback challenged, cruel, aggressive them with ruin.
“She does not use guns, knives, or any added array of concrete weapon like abounding criminals,” Alan Perez wrote in a letter to the court. “Language, and affect are her weapons, and armed with them she can calmly admission the apperception of anyone she wishes to casualty upon.”
When she was arrested in 2017, prosecutors say Cheah was active in a $14,000-a-month high-rise on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, busy beneath the name of a friend’s aimless mother.
According to cloister records, she has claimed assorted bodies accustomed her to use their names and that she planned to pay them aback for any debts she incurred.
In a abrupt buzz annual from jail, Cheah said the bodies who batten adjoin her “were not victims at all” and had “nothing to do with the situation” that put her abaft bars. “I don’t anticipate it’s fair,” she said.
“She’s been a actual acceptable woman,” her advocate Bill Hicks added. “People advance money all the time; sometimes they win, sometimes they lose.”
In cloister he argued that prosecutors were affronted not by what she did but the abstruse means she did it.
“They’re agitated because they would like to apperceive aggregate about her,” he told the judge.
It’s a abstruseness federal agents accept been aggravating to break for years. Aback Cheah’s babe got affiliated at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington in 2015, FBI agents were watching. Kromberg is a civic aegis prosecutor, and according to a actuality accustomed with the investigation, authorities initially doubtable Cheah had ties to Chinese intelligence. For years they begin no trace of her big spending in coffer records. One victim said she would use him as a abettor for wire transfers and booty her money in cash. In accomplished cloister proceedings, Cheah said she lived off her accomplished balance as a plastics executive.
According to cloister records, the woman built-in Siew Im Cheah entered the U.S. from Malaysia on a visitor’s acceptance beneath the name Sau Hoong Lee in 2001. The absolute Lee is a homemaker in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur who says she never met Cheah.
‘Who would accomplish article up like this?’
Her aboriginal accepted abomination in the U.S. dates to 2004, aback she was bedevilled of burglary, auto annexation and character annexation in Monrovia, Calif., for burglary her landlord’s name and driver’s authorization to buy a BMW.
In 2011 she was arrested in Monterey Park, Calif., afterwards autograph a bad $350,000 analysis beneath the name “Claudia Lee” to buy a design arena that she again pawned for $100,000. A year later, calling herself Teresa Cheah, she blanket the character of a roommate. Beneath the name Cindy Tran she opened a coffer account, cashed out a activity allowance policy, awash her roommate’s two cars and bought a new one.
In 2012 she took Tran’s name beyond the country into a accumulation abode in Northern Virginia. Her acquaintance Cindy Lin started incurring debt on acclaim cards she had never opened, actuality chased by the IRS for taxes on bank jackpots she never won, and cutting up cartage tickets in cars she never drove.
Finally, in 2016, Lin contacted badge in Brunswick, Va., about a dispatch admission and was credible a anatomy camera angel she accustomed as her “mother figure” abaft the caster of a 2017 Porsche with her Shih Tzu, Sushi, in her lap. Lin abstruse that Cheah had acclimated Lin’s authorization aback pulled over for dispatch at atomic four times in Ferraris and Porsches registered in the names of assorted men.
One was Alan Perez, who met Cheah in 2015 aback alive as a chef at a Houston restaurant. “Cindy Lin” collection up in a drop-top red Ferrari with California plates. They affirmed over their abhorrence of the burghal and ad-lib natures. For addition as affluent as she claimed to be, Perez said, Cheah was affably down-to-earth.
“It happened so fast, aural a brace months,” he recalled. In some allotment of his mind, he said he never trusted her. But in another, she became and remained the “big sister” who had showered him with love.
Even as his debt racked up and Cheah became acrid and demanding, he agreed to move with her to L.A. and alpha a nonprofit. She accomplished him on how to allocution to badge if they asked about her, cogent him she maintained assorted identities because she formed for the CIA.
“The admission of atomic attrition was to go deeper,” Perez said.
She larboard him $250,000 in debt, he said, best of which he wrote off by activity bankrupt, and took money from his parents as well, abrogation them estranged.
She charmed Perez’s ancestors by adage she capital “simple and bashful pleasures.” She afflicted added victims with lies about her grandeur. She said she had admission to a government advance armamentarium in Singapore through her ancestors but was “Google-proof” to abstain actuality dead by the bodies who kidnapped her father.
Cheah’s admission to the affluent and acclaimed were why Jimmy Rhee anticipation Lin was the absolute deal. She already alien him to the Redskins amateur at a Porsche dealership, Rhee said, and she claimed to be accompany with Redskins buyer Daniel Snyder.
And aback Rhee visited Cheah while she was sick, he saw flowers with a agenda that appeared to accept been active by President Obama. He now believes she beatific them to herself.
“She was consistently creating, manipulating a apocryphal bearings and environment,” Rhee said. “She was a adept at that.”
Rhee was then-Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s abettor business secretary aback he met Cheah, who abiding him to advance $300,000 in a Nigerian oil venture. She seemed to apperceive the oil and ball businesses well, and she had banking abstracts that appeared to aback up her claims.
“She is a very, actual personable lady,” Rhee recalled. “It’s adamantine to abide her friendship.”
When he started pressuring her to pay him back, he said she put him off with allocution of her affairs to body a training ability for the Wizards.
The declared arch of the aggregation Cheah started for that activity was Lawrence Jones, her battle drillmaster at a bounded studio. Not continued afterwards they met, she bought him a Porsche and told him he should accompany his dream of owning his own gym.
“It was a daydream from there,” he said. “I acquainted answerable to be at her allure and call.” She would deathwatch him up in the average of the night and appeal he drive her to auberge affairs with visiting oil admiral still on African time. No business deals panned out.
“She was cogent me that her dad was dead in a even blast that had been hijacked by terrorists,” he recalled. “It was so elaborate. Who would accomplish article up like this?”
After about a year, he cut off contact. Lee Kuan Yew — the aboriginal Singapore prime minister, who she claimed was her grandfathering — had died, and Jones watched the burial on television. His accomplished ancestors was present; Cheah was not amid them.
Asked by Ellis how Cheah could allow a lawyer, Hicks said she still has acceptable friends. Present in the arcade was James Lange, a above able boxer and Redskins coach. In a letter to the court, he said Cheah assassin him as a claimed trainer and accepted herself “impeccable with her word.”
Another adherent is Martin Scruggs, a above CIA administrator who met Cheah through his girlfriend.
“I aboveboard accept that the use of the IDs was an attack to assure her while she conducted business to accommodate for herself, her family, and others,” he wrote.
At sentencing, Cheah said little, except that she was apologetic to apprentice Perez’s ancestor had blight and that she would like to ability out with her sympathies.
Outside the courtroom, Perez asked an FBI abettor if he could get a abstinent order.
Antonio Olivo and Kareem Copeland contributed to this report.
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