The source of his wealth? A sophisticated identity theft scheme that may have conned Torontonians out of millions. He was charming and handsome, with a neatly trimmed beard, a shaved head and perfect teeth. His condo, in the former Four Seasons hotel, was steps to the west, and he parked his black Jaguar at the Hazelton Hotel opposite. In a neighbourhood known for excess, Chrome was its most conspicuous consumer. He wore watches so gargantuan that they seemed to drag on his arm.
His preferred suit style was Neapolitan—known for its soft con rollino shoulders, high collars and fabrics sourced from exclusive Ariston mills.
His personal scent, Clive Christian No. They swapped compliments—how this pocket square neatly embellished those shoelaces, or how these cufflinks flattered that scarf. Chrome was brazen with women, identifying the most beautiful woman at a club and approaching her with confidence. Chrome partying at Kasa Moto. When asked about the source of his wealth, Chrome would sometimes tell people he was an international businessman, in town for only a short time. One of his acquaintances assumed he was an oil tycoon.
He might have evaded the police altogether, if not for a fatal weakness: Chrome and his alleged accomplice Mickie Noah at STK in Yorkville According to police, Toronto is a preferred destination for international specialists in identity theft, credit card fraud, extortion, phishing, romance and charity scams, and more.
Federal Trade Commission and the United States Postal Inspection Service, placing officers within some of those agencies so that communication is as collaborative and expedient as possible. Some people are victimized without doing any of those things. Wayne Haymer is an accountant who lived in a condo building near Don Mills and Eglinton.
One night in November , he was driving his mother to dinner. He stopped at a gas station at Wilson and Dufferin, where his credit card was declined. The bank reversed the charges. Then Haymer remembered something odd: Doreen Affleck, a year-old widow from Etobicoke, had a similar experience. Like Haymer, she was careful with her finances, using her credit card only for gas and groceries, reviewing her monthly statement religiously and diligently paying off the balance.
On April 24, , she pulled into a gas station at Dixie and Dundas and was surprised when her card was declined at the pump. The attendant explained that she needed to contact her card provider immediately. The representative said their system had flagged and cancelled the irregular transaction and placed a stop on her card.
Both Affleck and Haymer assumed their experiences were simply bad luck, but the fraud specialists at their banks knew something bigger and more pernicious was at play. In Canada, between and , instances of identity theft grew by 21 per cent.
Last fall, the surge prompted bank fraud investigators to take a closer look, and they noticed a pattern: The banks reached out to the Toronto police for help. Their distress call made its way to Tim Trotter and Mike Kelly, detective constables in the financial crimes unit. The unit has four branches: In the discussions that followed, the bankers kept circling back to one name: His father, Gbadebo, was a travelling businessman from southwestern Nigeria.
Gbadebo studied at the University of Exeter in the U. He later attended Lagos State University, and in , when he was 23, his father brought him to Toronto. Chrome enrolled at York University, where he studied economics and lived modestly in a basement apartment near campus. Less than a year later, police believe, he entered the world of fraud.
The package had come from Nigeria, and it was heavy enough to qualify for inspection. Inside, officials discovered 36 envelopes addressed to various people in the U. The intended recipients had placed ads online selling various items; fraudsters, posing as brokers, wrote letters explaining they wanted to buy the item, but their buyers had already written a cheque for more than the asking price. Would the recipient be so kind as to deposit it and wire back the difference?
In most instances of the scam, the intended target is skeptical and ignores the letter, but inevitably, some obey the enclosed instructions. By the time the bank catches on and cancels the transaction, the account holder is on the hook and the scammer is in the wind, a few thousand dollars richer. When he signed for the parcel, they arrested him and charged him with defrauding the public.
Chrome reappeared on police radar in , when he walked into a Royal Bank on Bathurst and, using forged documents under the name Glen Lee, opened a chequing account. RBC eventually realized that the account was fishy, and police arrested Chrome. According to police, Chrome also developed another elaborate, highly profitable scheme, one that encompassed mail theft, identity theft and credit card fraud.
First, they allege, he would intercept mail at condos in Toronto, typically buildings without concierges or front desk staff. He would call the banks and impersonate the cardholder, trying to extract additional information, and update each profile in his notebook as he went. In many cases, he knew what car his victims drove, where they worked, and the names of their loved ones. Next came the spending spree.
Often, Chrome would withdraw cash at an ATM or purchase prepaid gift cards. Despite their best efforts, police say, Chrome was able to continue his operation in plain sight—and no one could do much about it.
They married and eventually had three kids. By all accounts, Chrome was a devoted father, taking his kids to the park, the movies, and to church every Sunday. The family moved often—presumably to keep police from knowing his whereabouts. Somewhere along the way, Chrome began using his middle name, Johnson, and sometimes went by Jay. As money began to flow in from his frauds, he explained to some friends that he worked for a moving company.
Chrome also sent cash back home to set up a liquor store business for his mother in the Oshodi area. He later built two houses in the residential area of Abule Egba, in the north end of Lagos, and put his mother in one of them.
He spent lavishly on himself, too. When police raided his Lawrence West apartment, he ran to the bathroom clutching his phone, which he tried to hide in the garbage can. On it were photos of a residential construction project back in Lagos, plus images of a shipping container housing a car, a flat-screen TV and building materials—many of which are hard to come by in Nigeria. They began to suspect he kept a stash house for the most damning material.
They eventually found enough evidence from ATM security footage to lay 53 charges. And so began a game of cat and mouse between the police and Johnson Chrome that would last nearly a decade. Photograph by Daniel Neuhaus Like any successful businessman, Chrome learned to delegate.
Noah had a predilection for bright jackets, wide-brimmed hats and oversized Iris Apfel glasses. He shopped at Holt Renfrew and Via Cavour, stocking his closet with monk-strap shoes, vibrant ascots and jaunty bow ties. Noah posing outside the Hazelton Hotel Chrome gradually aligned himself with other associates. Andrew Afolarin was a confidence man, smooth on the phone and able to sweet-talk anyone into just about anything.
A man named Gee Salaq was purported to be a specialist in account-takeover fraud, especially against U. Police suspect that over time, Chrome also developed sources inside Canadian banks, who would provide cardholder information in exchange for a kickback. The judge allowed it. Once again, they raided his home. Along with the usual plunder of watches and suits, they found mailbox keys for a building on Rathburn Road in Mississauga, and lists of various tenants of that building, plus their financial information.
It was the smoking gun they hoped would make charges against Chrome stick. The resulting charges fell under several court jurisdictions across the GTA. One major count related to York Region, so the file was sent there and was misplaced. When it was recovered and sent back to Toronto, where the bulk of the alleged frauds had taken place, the case had been pending for so long that the courts stayed the matter. Again, Chrome was spared significant jail time.
They wanted to determine if Mr. O really was as prolific a fraudster as the bankers assumed. They told the assembled bankers that they needed images of people making withdrawals using fraudulently obtained cards.
They asked for dates, amounts, times of transactions and records of phone calls made requesting PIN changes. A few days later, they caught a break. Representatives from a bank in the Niagara region got in touch with video images from an ATM camera of a Nigerian man in his 40s, later identified as Adedayo Ogundana, making cash withdrawals using a stolen credit card. On one date he wore a grey hat with a black brim. And on another date, he wore a green Pharrell hat.
When Ogundana finally returned home, police arrested him and obtained a search warrant for his cellphones. Police thought that Jay could be Johnson Chrome, and they received judicial authorization to view the records for his number. Police appealed to fraudsters they knew for more information about identity theft networks in Toronto.
Flashiness only invites police attention, and Chrome and his buddies were daring the police to sniff around. Trotter and Kelly followed the trail, combing through their social media accounts, which were teeming with photos of lavish dinners, fancy clothing, expensive cigars and luxury vehicles. And nowhere was there any evidence of any sort of employment. A few members of the public divulged crucial leads, including the fact that Chrome kept a condo in a high-rise near the Hazelton Hotel.
Trotter and Kelly canvassed the area, asking retailers about Chrome; most people remained tight-lipped.