- By Madeline Halpert
- BBC News, New York
A Florida woman who defrauded an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor of his life savings in a romance scam has been sentenced to four years in prison.
Peaches Stergo, 36, siphoned over $2.8m (£2.1m) between 2017 and late 2021 and used the money to live a “life of luxury”, prosecutors said.
Stergo, who met the Holocaust survivor on a dating website, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in April.
The judge called her scam “unspeakably cruel”.
Sentencing her to 51 months in prison on Thursday, US District Judge Edgardo Ramos ordered Stergo to pay $2.83m in restitution.
Stergo met the Holocaust survivor on a dating website around six or seven years ago, according to prosecutors with the US Southern District of New York.
She began asking the victim to borrow money to help her get funds from a legal settlement that prosecutors say did not exist.
Stergo continued to lie to the elderly man for the next four and a half years, demanding that he deposit money in her bank account or it would be frozen and she would not be able to pay him back.
Prosecutors said she “callously defrauded an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor who was simply looking for companionship”.
Stergo used the money to live a life of luxury, including buying a home in a gated community and staying at luxury hotels, according to prosecutors.
She also spent the cash on designer clothing, a Corvette, Rolex watches and gold coins and bars, while the elderly victim lost his apartment, prosecutors said.
The elderly man gave 62 cheques to Stergo over the course of the scam. At one point, he explained the situation to his son, who warned him it was a swindle.
In text messages, the Florida woman mocked the victim, telling her real lover that the 87-year-old had said he “loved her”, followed by a message that said “lol”, according to prosecutors.
She joked in a text that the victim was “broke” and he “don’t have anything else to pawn”.
She was upset when the money ran out, but only because, as she wrote in a text message: “I don’t want to work… it’s too hard.”
As a part of her sentencing, Stergo was ordered to forfeit her home in the gated community as well as over 100 luxury items.
Stergo’s lawyer told US media that she had “expressed remorse for her actions and will make every effort to repay the restitution in this case”.
In previous court documents, her lawyer argued she suffered from childhood trauma that made her prone to compulsive behaviours like participating in scams.