In the United States, Siew Im Cheah, who was born in Malaysia, has been called “a one-woman crime spree” by a federal prosecutor, according to a report in the Washington Post (WP) on Friday, October 25.
Another federal prosecutor said Ms Cheah “has perfected the art of identity theft” in a sentencing motion.
Since 2004, the 59-year-old Cheah has been stealing at least 6 peoples’ identities and pretending to have connections to the rich and famous in order to attract investors, and then would run away with their money.
In talking to would-be investors, among them being professional athletes and successful executives, she would claim to not only be the granddaughter of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, but also a good friend of former US President Barack Obama.
Court records show that Ms Cheah first came from Malaysia to the US in 2001, using the name Sau Hoong Lee. In actuality, Mrs Lee is a Kuala Lumpur housewife who has never even met Ms Cheah.
At her sentencing earlier this month for fraud and identity theft, she received a jail sentence of 51 months. However, Judge T.S. Ellis III told her, “I’m a little confused about what name to use for you.”
She replied that her name was Sau Hoong Lee. And according to her lawyer, she was 66 years old.
Prosecutor Gordon Kromberg spoke up, saying, “She’s not 66 years old, the woman whose identity she stole is 66 years old. She’s 59.
Sau Hoong Lee is just another identity which she stole.”
Ms Cheah was first arrested in 2004 for burglary, auto theft and identity theft in Monrovia, California. She had stolen the name and driver’s license of her landlord in order to purchase a BMW.
Seven years later, she was arrested again, this time at Monterey Park, California. Ms Cheah has written a check for $350,000 using the name Claudia Lee. The check bounced, and Ms Cheah pawned the ring for $100,000.
In 2012 she stole her roommate’s identity, opening a bank account as “Cindy Lin,” selling two of her roommate’s cars and buying a new one. The real Ms Lin started being pursued by the US’ Internal Revenue Service (IRS) “or taxes on casino jackpots she never won, and racking up traffic tickets in cars she never drove” according to the WP report.
A sports agent who had given money to Ms Cheah said that their investments, which were supposed to have gone to sports in Washington DC and oil in Nigeria went to luxury cars and handbags, as well as plastic surgery for Ms Cheah.
In a letter to the court he wrote, “Had we known she was not being honest about her real identity, age, and criminal background, we never would have trusted her.”
He described Ms Cheah as being “very manipulative and has shown no remorse for the heartaches she has caused.”
A man named Alan Perez, who was also one of Ms Cheah’s victims said in his letter to the court, “She does not use guns, knives, or any other sort of physical weapon like many criminals. Language and emotion are her weapons, and armed with them she can easily infiltrate the mind of anyone she wishes to prey upon.”
Jimmy Rhee, who was then-Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s assistant commerce secretary by the time he met Ms Cheah, said that he once visited Ms Cheah when she was ill, and saw flowers that came with a card supposedly signed by President Obama, which he now thinks that she wrote herself.
Mr Rhee said, “She was always creating, manipulating a fictitious situation and environment. She was a master at that.”
He ended up investing US $300,000 (S$ 409,000) in a Nigerian oil venture.
Lawrence Jones, another person that Ms Cheah had manipulated with a string of falsehoods, cut her off after having known her for a year, when he watched Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral wherein all the Lee family was present, and saw that Ms Cheah was not there.-/ TISG