Six Orlando-area residents accused of posing as Department of Homeland Security agents are facing federal charges in an online dating scheme, according to court documents.
The defendants lured their victims with dating posts advertising a female interested in companionship, according to court documents.
The people who responded — many of them older or in the military — exchanged photos with people they thought were adult women, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The posers then contacted the victims, identifying themselves as government agents, and claimed the females on the dating website were younger than 18, according to court documents.
The victims were told they were facing charges of soliciting a minor and that warrants had been issued for their arrest, court documents show.
They also were told they could avoid jail time if they paid a fine, records state.
The defendants fraudulently collected nearly $25,000, according to court documents. One victim paid as much as $2,468 to schemers, according to court documents.
Defendants took turns contacting the victims to demand more payments, records show.
The pretend agents sent paperwork labeled with the official Department of Homeland Security seal and a judge’s name. The letters were laced with legal terms related to child exploitation, and email addresses included phrases such as “child exploitation” and “cyber crimes center.”
Victims were directed to Walmart locations to send payments through money-transfer services such as MoneyGram and Western Union.
That is not a practice of Homeland Security, said Tammy Spicer, a spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“A legitimate ICE officer would never request money, and/or anything else of value, in exchange for not taking a person into custody or not investigating a crime,” Spicer said.
A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted Kissimmee residents Amaryllis Pagan, 19, and John Pierre Mack III, 25, in a nearly two-year fraud scheme.
Mack is a former member of the Florida National Guard, prosecutors said.
Also indicted were Ronnie Rolland Montgomery, 28, David Augusta Jones III, 26, Dillon McDowell, 25, and Ashley Ferrell, 26, all of Orlando.
Each is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and multiple counts of wire fraud.
The alleged scheme lasted from at least Aug. 1, 2015, until this month.
Mack, Montgomery and Jones face the most charges — 24 each. Each charge carries a maximum of 20 years in federal prison.
Anyone who may have been contacted by a fake Homeland Security officer can make a report with local law enforcement or call the Immigration and Customs Enforcement 24-hour tip line at 1-866-347-2423.
ktorralva@orlandosentinel or 407-420-5417