Three men were indicted on charges they scammed people in two states and tried to kill a Texas judge when their fraud ring was at risk, officials said Friday.
Federal prosecutors blamed Chimene Onyeri, 28, Marcellus Burgin, 26, and Rasul Scott, 24, for the November 2015 shooting that hospitalized Judge Julie Kocurek for months and cost her a finger.
The feds described Onyeri, who was captured on unrelated charges in Houston days after the attack, as a ringleader worried she would throw him in jail for a probation violation. Authorities arrested Scott in New Orleans on Thursday, but Burgin remained wanted on Friday night.
Burgin eluded police and FBI agents in a chase in Houston early Friday after he crashed his car into a telephone pole and ran away. The feds called him armed and dangerous, and Crime Stoppers of Houston has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
The three men face up to life in federal prison if they’re convicted on charges of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and identity theft. Onyeri faces six more counts of identity theft, one more count of wire fraud conspiracy and a mail fraud conspiracy charge.
“This multi-agency investigation uncovered a diabolical scheme that went from multi-faceted fraud to an attempt on the life of a State judicial officer,” U.S. Attorney Richard Durbin Jr. said in a statement.
The feds said Onyeri and others carried out a series of scams in Austin, Houston and parts of Louisiana between January 2012 and November 2015. The conspirators stole unsuspecting victims’ personal information through cameras placed on ATMs and debit and credit card readers, known as “skimmers,” according to the FBI.
They used the stolen information to seize money from the victims’ accounts, buy cash gift cards, and file fraudulent tax returns to get the refund checks, prosecutors said.
Onyeri bribed bank employees to create accounts for storing the funds, according to the feds. He also agreed to a $1,500 payment for a person he thought was a U.S. Postal employee in exchange for intercepting mailed tax refund checks, prosecutors said.
Onyeri, whose probation violation was before Kocurek’s Austin court last year, feared she would put him behind bars and put an end to the conspiracy, according to the feds. The three men tried to kill her in the Nov. 6, 2015, shooting in the driveway of her home in west Austin, investigators said.
A lawyer for Onyeri has said he was framed by his ex-girlfriend and knew that hurting the judge would not allow him to escape jail time. Police said at the time that shrapnel and shattered glass wounded Kocurek as she was returning home from a high school football game. Gunfire rang out when the driver of a car she was riding in got out to move a trash can that had been placed in the driveway, police said.
Kocurek didn’t return to the bench until February, the Austin-American Statesman reported. She told the local newspaper she put up her arm in a reflex when she heard the shots and lost one of the fingers on her left hand.
“I feel very lucky that is all I lost,” Kocurek said.
The FBI said Burgin, the fugitive, is 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds. He was last seen in Houston, and he has scars under his left eye and on his upper lip, according to the feds.