3 plead to $4.5M scam that left 100 victims ‘broke and heartbroken’ – NBC10 Philadelphia | #datingscams | #lovescams

Three people — including a husband and wife — from New Jersey have pleaded guilty to charges they faced in a $4.5 million dollar romance scam that, officials said, left 100 victims “broke and heartbroken.”

According to the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Philip R Sellinger, the husband and wife pair of Martins Friday Inalegwu, 35, and Steincy Mathieu, 27, both formerly of Maple Shade, NJ — along with Oluwaseyi Fatolu, 56, of Springfield, NJ — pleaded guilty to charges after they operated a romance fraud scam that targeted victims that they wooed on social media and through online dating sites.

“These defendants took advantage of more than 100 vulnerable victims, preying on their loneliness to convince them to send money to scammers the victims believed were romantic partners,” U.S. Attorney Sellinger said in a statement on the pleas. “In this way, they stole millions of dollars. This conspiracy involved swindling, illegal money transfers and tax evasion. Our office will always be ready to work with our law enforcement partners to root out these schemes and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

In a statement, Sellinger’s office noted that Martins Friday Inalegwu pleaded guilty on Monday to charges of conducting an unlawful money transmitting business and tax evasion.

His wife pleaded, in November of last year, to charges of tax evasion, while Fatolu, in January, pleaded to charges of operating an unlawful money transmitting business.

According to court documents, for nearly five years — from October of 2016 to May 13, 2020 — Inalegwu, Mathieu and their conspirators — several of whom, officials said reside in Nigeria — participated in an online romance scheme, defrauding more than 100 victims throughout the country.

Through the scheme, the scammers contacted victims through online dating and social media sites and communicated with victims over email or phone, while pretending to strike up romantic relationships with their targets.

The scammers, documents note, then requested money from victims citing “fictitious emergency needs.”

“All fraud schemes hurt victims who end up losing part or all of their hard-earned fortunes, savings or retirements,” said FBI Newark Special Agent in Charge, James E. Dennehy, in a statement. “However, romance scams take on an insidious level of harm. Few of us would want to admit we fell for this type of scam, but we’re all human and scammers prey on that fact. The subjects are owning up to their crimes, but it may not provide much solace for the victims left broke and heartbroken.”

In all instances, court documents said, the victims believed they were talking to people who didn’t actually exist — instead they were communicating with individuals that were part of this years-long scheme.

Investigators said that, through the course of this scheme, victims wired money to bank accounts held by Inalegwu and Mathieu in the United States, and also mailed checks directly to Inalegwu and Mathieu.

Some victims also transferred money to Inalegwu and Mathieu via money transfer services and others wired money to bank accounts held by conspirators overseas, court documents note.

Overall, Federal law enforcement agents have identified more than 100 victims, who sent over $4.5 million directly to Inalegwu and Mathieu, and several million more to conspirators.

In turn, federal officials said, Inalegwu and Mathieu spent the victims’ money on “personal expenses, withdrew money in cash, transferred money to other bank accounts they personally controlled, and transferred money to bank accounts in Nigeria and Turkey.”

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