A Millville man who posed as a U.S. soldier stationed in Syria and other fictitious identities as part of an online dating wire fraud scheme was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said on Tuesday.
Rubbin Sarpong, 38, previously plead guilty in a Camden federal court to tax evasion and conspiring to commit wire fraud and money laundering, authorities said. He was arrested and charged in 2019 after operating the online scheme for three years with several co-conspirators.
From Jan. 2016 until Sept. 3, 2019, Sarpong and his conspirators — many of which lived in Ghana, Western Africa — created online dating profiles posing with fictitious or stolen identities, most frequently as a U.S. soldier stationed overseas.
The group made multiple email accounts and Voice over Internet Protocol phone numbers, which use broadband internet access to make calls rather than analog phone numbers in order to avoid detection.
More than 40 victims were identified by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, sending more than $2 million to 13 bank accounts operated by Sarpong, who often posed as relatives, friends and a fictitious business entity. When Sarpong received the money, he would withdraw it in cash and wire it to other domestic accounts or to the co-conspirators.
The original criminal complaint lists one victim who died by suicide after wiring $93,710 to Sarpong. An individual posing with a fake name emailed the victim claiming to be a U.S. service member stationed in Syria. He claimed his unit had recovered millions of dollars in gold bars and that he was rewarded with one valued at more than $12 million.
The individual told the victim that he needed money to help transport the gold to the United States, but that the money would be returned to her once the gold arrived in the country. He told the victim he was working with a diplomat who was assisting him in getting the gold to the United States.
The man sent wire instructions to the victim using a bank account held by Sarpong. When the victim asked who that was, she was told that the diplomat was not an American citizen and needed to use his secretary’s (Sarpong) bank account for the transfer. He then sent her a fictitious airplane ticket, claiming that he was flying back to the United States and her money would be returned.
At the direction of Sarpong and the co-conspirator, the woman sent the money to two domestic bank accounts over a three-week period. She committed suicide two days later. The victim’s daughter told authorities that her mother said she was “going to BWI (Brooklyn/Washington International) airport to meet (Sarpong) with the gold.”
During the time period that the scheme was taking place, Sarpong purchased property in Ghana and posted photos on social media showing himself with large amounts of cash, cars, designer clothing and expensive jewelry, authorities said.
Despite receiving $1.14 million in taxable income from those he defrauded, Sarpong did not file an income tax return or pay income taxes from 2016 through 2018, resulting in a $387,923 tax loss.
In addition to Sarpong’s prison sentence, he was also sentenced to three additional years of supervised release. He must pay $3.08 million in restitution to 36 victims, $387,923 to the IRS, $4,096 to the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services and $6,903 to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.