A Florida woman who admitted to siphoning nearly $3 million from the life savings of an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor in a romance scam received a four-year prison sentence on Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos sentenced Peaches Stergo, 36, to 51 months after denouncing her actions as “unspeakably cruel” and her behavior motivated by “greed.”
The mother of two, who lived in Champions Gate, Fla., with her partner and teen children, spent seven years defrauding a man she met on a dating website — a man who had lost both of his parents during World War II when he was 6.
Stergo fabricated financial difficulties, starting with a 2017 request to borrow money to pay a lawyer so as to get injury-settlement funds released. As it turned out, there was no injury and no lawyer. She carried on for four more years, building fraud upon fraud as she claimed that her (nonexistent) injury-fund bank accounts would be frozen if he did not fork over more money, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
By the time the jig was up, the victim had written 62 checks totaling more than $2.8 million, the justice department said in a statement. Stergo’s deception included creating a fake email account, letters and invoices all purportedly connected to a TD Bank employee who also did not exist.
The man eventually lost his life savings and even his apartment, while Stergo lived a luxurious life with her ill-gotten gains, residing in a gated community, owning a condo, buying lots of cars, owning a boat, and taking five-star-hotel vacations. She also spent “many tens of thousands of dollars” on pricey meals, gold coins and bars, jewelry, Rolex watches and designer duds, the justice department said, and derived amusement when the man said he loved her.
“Peaches Stergo callously defrauded an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor who was simply looking for companionship,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said. “She used the millions of dollars in fraud proceeds to live a life of luxury at the victim’s expense. But she did not get away with it. As today’s sentence demonstrates, perpetrators of romance scams will be held to account for their crimes.”
Stergo was arrested in January 2023 and pleaded guilty in April. In addition to her sentence she will have three years of supervised release and must pay restitution to the tune of $2.8 million, forfeiting the gated-community home and the 100-plus luxury items she bought.
Her victim, according to prosecutors, was frail and in a state of cognitive decline. He had moved to the U.S. in his 20s and become a successful businessman. The man was not identified in court.
“As a Holocaust survivor, I have endured unspeakable pain and loss in my life,” he wrote in a letter to the judge. “But never did I imagine that I would be subjected to such a heartless betrayal in my old age.”
With News Wire Services