WHEN Love Island star Georgia Steel met a handsome, wealthy guy in a London nightclub, she had no idea she’d fallen into the clutches of a twisted conman.
Fabulous investigates failed-footballer-turned-swindler Medi Abalimba.
At first, the words didn’t register. Georgia Steel couldn’t take in what her manager was telling her. “He’s a convicted fraudster,” they said. “He’s been in prison.”
This was the moment, in April 2019, when the Love Island star discovered that the handsome, seemingly successful man she’d been dating was, in fact, a conman.
A six-week romance ended in the devastating revelation that US government agent Miguel Johnson was actually Medi Abalimba, an ex-footballer who’d turned to crime when his sporting career ended and, by the time Georgia met him, had already served a four-year prison sentence for fraud.
His web of lies unravelled after the couple were photographed together outside a bar in London.
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“He was flustered and said the pictures couldn’t be published,” says Georgia, now 25. “I thought it was because he didn’t want his security compromised due to his job.”
Journalists recognised Abalimba and the photos were published online, prompting Georgia’s manager to call her with the awful truth. She’d been duped into dating a swindler who, unbeknown to her, had spent around £32,000 on her credit cards.
“It was a complete shock. I didn’t know who this person I’d let into my life was or what he was capable of,” Georgia remembers.
‘I didn’t realise then, but I was vulnerable… He exploited that’
Tall, handsome and wearing designer clothes, “Miguel’’ had approached Georgia in early 2019 in Reign nightclub in London’s West End.
Using a smooth American accent, he showered her with compliments, and told her he was an ex-serviceman who worked with the US government in a security-sensitive role that he wasn’t allowed to talk about. Georgia was intrigued, and when she told him who she was, he said he’d never heard of Love Island.
“I liked that,” she says. “I didn’t want to be with someone who was with me because they’d seen me on TV.”
Over the following six weeks, they went on dates to swanky clubs and restaurants. Sometimes they were taken in his chauffeur-driven Range Rover. He even met Georgia’s family.
Georgia believes she was targeted by Abalimba and that he knew who she was when he approached her, skilfully manipulating her in order to gain her trust.
“He was looking for targets. I was 20 and living alone in London, as my family were in Doncaster,” Georgia says. “I didn’t realise then, but I was vulnerable. I was getting lots of attention and was away from the people I trusted. He exploited that.”
Now, Abalimba’s life of crime is being laid bare in ITV’s new true-crime documentary series Cons And Swindles. It details how the swindler has served jail sentences, as well as how he also targeted Thierry Henry’s ex-wife, model Claire Henry.
Abalimba, 34, was born in Congo and moved to the UK aged five. He was brought up in London and fell in with the wrong crowd as a youngster, but had the chance to turn his life around when his potential as a footballer was spotted.
At the peak of his career in 2009, he signed for Derby County for £1.2m. He also played for Oldham Athletic, Southend United, Fulham and Crystal Palace. He never quite reached the heights of football superstardom, due to his propensity for getting injured.
By 2012, he was signed by Farnborough Town with a wage of £300 a week, and was supplementing his income with part-time work at a taxi firm.
But his taste for the high life lived by his more successful footballer peers drove him to a life of crime. By 2014, he was breaking into lockers at a private health club he was a member of in London, taking photos of credit cards, then using the details to fund a playboy lifestyle.
He posed as Chelsea footballer Gael Kakuta and swanned around in luxury bars and hotels, running up huge tabs, which he either didn’t pay, got someone else to pay or settled with stolen credit cards.
He racked up almost £15,000 worth of bills at luxe spots including the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hyde Park, Corinthia Hotel in Whitehall and Millennium Hotel Knightsbridge.
He also took four girls from Manchester on an £1,100 helicopter flight over London, before having them stay with him at an £800-a-night mansion in Berkshire, which he claimed was his, then duped another woman into spending thousands on her credit card to rent him a Range Rover.
He was finally caught when he paid for more than £11,000 worth of clothes at Selfridges in Manchester using several credit cards.
When he sent a limousine driver to the shop the next day to collect the goods, a store detective became suspicious and called the police.
A security guard prevented Abalimba’s driver from leaving, then the police became involved and tracked Abalimba down to a mansion in Ascot, Berkshire, which he’d rented in the name of Kakuta.
Abalimba was jailed for four years in October 2014, admitting three charges of fraud, taking a Range Rover without consent and making off without paying for £104 worth of petrol, while other offences were also taken into consideration.
Police said that with no assets or cash to his name, there was no opportunity for financial compensation to be paid to victims or for the estimated £163,000 he’d spent to be recovered.
But even in jail, Abalimba sought out victims. In 2016, while serving his sentence in HMP Moorland, he exploited a vulnerable 50-year-old agency nurse working in the prison, enticing her into a relationship.
She smuggled a phone in for him, and when the relationship was discovered, she was jailed for 20 months for misconduct in a public office and conveying a mobile phone into prison.
Sheffield Crown Court was told the divorced mum of two had been taken in by a “confidence trickster” who targeted her because she had low self-esteem.
According to experts, his methods are similar to those of other dangerous catfishers, such as Tinder Swindler Simon Leviev, and John Keady, who was jailed for eight years for conning women out of £70,000 in romance scams, posing as an ex-SAS soldier.
Anna Rowe is the founder of website Catchthecatfish.com and co-founder of romance fraud think tank Love Said. “Abalimba is a narcissist and is using the skills he’s learned to groom victims. These people catfishers know how to manipulate,” she explains.
“Research shows there are correlations between coercive control and the techniques that scammers like Abalimba are using. It is the same behaviour. Some people think coercive control is about feeling threatened by violence, but it comes in many guises.”
‘I didn’t think he was a thief or predator – he looked like he had money’
Abalimba was released from jail in 2018 and the following year met his next victim, Georgia.
“I didn’t think he was a thief or a predator – he looked like he had money – and we exchanged phone numbers,” she says.
Their six-week relationship was never intimate, and whenever Georgia asked him about his life and work he changed the subject. “He was adamant he couldn’t be photographed with me, and he said his job was the reason he didn’t have social media,” she says.
Abalimba went to Georgia’s 21st birthday party in March 2019, where he met her family. “He fooled everyone,” she says. “My dad felt he’d let me down when it all came out – that he should have known. But Abalimba was so convincing.”
The day Georgia discovered Abalimba’s true identity, she confronted him. “He came to my apartment and tried to deny it,” she says. “Eventually, he left. That was the last time I saw him.”
However, when Georgia checked her accounts, to her horror, around £32,000 had been spent. She believes Abalimba had copied the details of her cards, which he then used. She called the police.
“They knew who he was and told me he’d been in jail for similar offences and that he’d conned a string of women,” she says.
In September 2019, Abalimba was arrested for fraud at Kadie’s Club in London’s Mayfair. By then, however, he’d already snared his next victim, Claire Henry.
When, in October 2019, Abalimba was sent back to jail for breaching the conditions of his release on licence, he told Claire he’d gone to Kuwait on military service. They spoke on the phone every day for about four months, and a court was later told Claire said she could hear sounds in the background “consistent with a military operation”.
After being released, he was jailed again in March 2020 for using Georgia’s card to pay for restaurants and designer clothes. Georgia did not attend the trial.
Dr Martina Dove, author of The Psychology Of Fraud, Persuasion And Scam Techniques, explains: “The psychological impact is considerable in all frauds, but especially romance frauds. Coming to terms with the fact they trusted someone who set out to deceive them is painful and can greatly impact self-esteem.”
Undeterred by his time in jail, Abalimba was released in late 2020 and soon got back in touch with Claire. A court later heard he groomed her. She developed feelings for him, while he stole from her bank accounts and manipulated her into paying for his lavish lifestyle, which included stays in London’s Corinthia Hotel and membership at Dubai’s Al Habtoor Polo Resort.
Claire started noticing money leaving her account, and when she tried to end the relationship, Abalimba said his grandfather had died. A sentencing hearing was later told that Abalimba manipulated Claire into feeling sorry for him, saying he had a very powerful family who were withholding money from him.
Claire discovered the fraud in March 2021, after she found unauthorised charges on her bank account for Abalimba’s dental work. That September, he admitted 15 counts of fraud and confessed to using a forged Illinois driving licence and fake debit card. He was jailed for four years and two months for plundering £50,000 from Claire’s bank accounts.
He also posed as American football player Tarik Cohen to persuade chauffeur Marc Bilton to spend £104,911 of his own cash to pay off his hotel bills, promising he would pay Marc back the money.
Georgia hopes that by sharing her story, she can help prevent other people being exploited.
“The documentary was difficult to do, as it opened wounds.
It’s not something I wanted to dwell on, but I want to raise awareness of these types of people,” she says.
“They know what buttons to push. I would say to anyone in this situation that it’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself.”
As for Abalimba, Georgia doubts another spell inside will make him change his ways.
“He’ll keep doing it,” she says. “It’s all he knows. He’ll be working on his next plan.”
- Watch Cons And Swindles: The Football Fraudster, Thursday, ITVX.