GLASTONBURY — A local woman looking for love on the online dating app Zoosk was scammed out of $18,750 by her would-be sweetheart in a romance fraud scheme that likely originated in Nigeria, police say.
The police investigation into the matter, which is continuing, recently led to the arrest of two people from Massachusetts — described as husband and wife in an arrest affidavit — Ricardo L. Escobar Viviescas, 36, of Revere and his wife, Carmen Viviana Perez-Uribe, 35, of Lowell.
Police say that the $18,750 the Glastonbury woman sent to her online love was deposited in a Massachusetts bank account Viviescas and his wife controlled.
Viviescas and Perez-Uribe, both wanted on warrants obtained by police in the case, turned themselves in at the Glastonbury Police Department on Saturday.
They each were charged with second-degree larceny, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Both were released on $20,000 bond and are due in Manchester Superior Court on Dec. 10.
According to the affidavit supporting Viviescas’ arrest, prepared by Detective Christopher Kopencey, events happened this way:
On Valentine’s Day, a 60-year-old local woman showed up at the Glastonbury Police Department to file a complaint, saying she had been the victim of a scam involving a man she met on Zoosk.
She said the man was named Darren Thomeson Miller on the app the previous month and he occasionally also went by the name of “Chris” Thomeson. She told police they usually conversed once a day and most of the messages were of a romantic nature.
She also shared with police that the man told her he was from Denmark and lost his wife and two children in a car accident in 2016. Depressed and out of work, he said, he moved to the United States in 2018, first settling in Washington, D.C., then in Weston, Massachusetts, where he found work as a contractor.
On Jan. 21, he told her he was awarded a contract in Canada and left the next day for the job. They were out of contact for several days.
He then sent her a copy of an independent contractor agreement to show her where he was working. The woman gave the document to police, who told her it appeared to be fake. He also sent her his flight information from Boston to Toronto, but police said it was not actually a purchased itinerary but just a close-up screenshot of a flight schedule.
The woman told police that Thomeson told her he traveled from Canada to Germany to purchase supplies. When she spoke to him on Feb. 1, he said he was being held by Munich Airport immigration because he was traveling with $300,000. He said he was able to get a lawyer from the Denmark Embassy and needed her to transfer $4,500 of his money into an attorney’s account for a retainer fee. This was supposedly his money that she transferred.
Four days later, she heard from him again, and this time he told her he needed $18,750 for bail or he would be held for 10 years. He sent her a copy of a motion for conditional release as proof of the matter, but when she later showed the document to police, they told her it was a fake.
Before that, she felt bad that he was in prison and agreed to loan him the money.
He asked for the money in Bitcoin but she would give it to him only via a bank transfer. Based on the information he gave her, she transferred the money into a bank account in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Police later discovered that the bank account belonged to a mango business bank account jointly owned by Viviescas and Perez-Uribe. Their business involved selling mango slices from a kiosk at the Square One Mall in Saugus, Massachusetts.
Days later the woman received an email from a supposed doctor, saying that Thomeson was brought to a hospital unconscious and weak and may have had severe medical problems. A subsequent email from that same supposed doctor advised her Thomeson needed a liver transplant, and she was provided with an invoice for $260,000 that needed to be paid.
At that point, she feared she had been scammed and decided to go to police.
During the investigation, police found that the couple’s mango business bank account, as of Feb. 12, had a balance of about $174,239, and that the Glastonbury woman’s $18,750 was wired into that account in rapid succession with other similar wires, making police suspect that “all incoming wires in this timeframe may have been obtained by similar fraud and that the listed names may be other victims. None of these wires were reversed and a large amount of this money was wired out to another company.”
Police identified that company as Tito’s Depot Corp. in Florida, which has ties to Viviescas.
In June, Viviescas and his wife came to the Glastonbury Police Department to speak with the detective investigating the case, and Viviescas denied any wrongdoing. Viviescas told police they were involved in several businesses, including selling cellphones to a wholesale buyer in Medellin, Colombia.
“In a voluntary interview with Viviescas and Perez-Uribe, the two explained that they were aware of the deposited $18,750 and claimed it was for legitimate business purposes of selling phones,” Kopencey wrote in the affidavit, referring to the Glastonbury woman’s wire transfer of money.
During this interview, he said, Viviescas was unable to provide any evidence that the stolen funds were directly related to selling phones to Colombia. Based on Viviescas and Perez-Uribe’s description of how their phone business operated, coupled with questionable business records they provided, Kopencey said, “it is believed the two are knowingly receiving illicit funds into their joint bank account.”
Police concluded that based on their investigation, money in the romance fraud scheme moved like this: Likely a Nigeria-based scammer convinces a victim to send money via a wire transfer directly to the mango business account owned by Viviescas and his wife, and they take a percentage of the funds and wire the rest to Tito’s Depot Corp. At this point, however, police do not know where Tito’s Depot Corp then moves the funds.