PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Houston-area man was sentenced on Tuesday to more than three years in prison for his role in an online romance scam in which the identities and images of real U.S. military generals were used to cheat victims from across the nation out of a total of $1.5 million, federal prosecutors said.
In addition to three years and a month behind bars, Fola Alabi, 52, of Richmond, Texas, was also sentenced in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island to three years of probation, ordered to pay full restitution and forfeit his home valued at $560,000, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.
The victims were often women in their 70s and 80s and either widowed or divorced, according to court documents.
In one case, a widow from Rhode Island was contacted by a member of the conspiracy claiming to be a “General Miller,” who convinced the woman to hand over $60,000 to help pay for the shipment of his personal belongings to the U.S., prosecutors said.
A check from the victim was made payable to a company created by Alabi and mailed to Alabi’s home, authorities said.
The victim almost sent another check to the fake general, but her bank and local police intervened.
Other victims sent money, usually in the form of bank checks or cash, to addresses and companies that were controlled by Alabi, prosecutors said. The money was deposited in bank accounts he also controlled and then quickly withdrawn or transferred.
The funds were often wired overseas to China and India and some were used to pay Alabi’s mortgage, prosecutors said.
Other victims were based in Tennessee, North Carolina, California, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Arizona, Texas, Idaho and South Dakota, authorities said.
Alabi pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy and money laundering.
Two real generals in victim impact statements told the court that they continue to be victimized by online romance scams, authorities said.
Last month, a Massachusetts man was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for helping to steal millions of dollars from hundreds of people in online romance scams.