A Florida woman who stole the life savings of an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor in what a prosecutor called a “sick” romance scam pleaded guilty Friday and could face prison time, officials said.
Peaches Stergo, 36, pleaded guilty to wire fraud, which carries a maximum of 20 years in prison under the law.
The Champions Gate woman stole over $2.8 million from the man in a scam that lasted years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said.
Stergo met him on a dating website, and in 2017 she asked for money, claiming she’d gotten a settlement from a lawsuit but needed to pay her lawyer to receive it, according to court documents.
A series of lies over four years followed, in which she claimed she needed more and more money or else her TD Bank accounts would be frozen and he would never be paid back, according to the indictment.
She also faked emails and invoices. In all, 62 checks for $2.8 million were deposited in her accounts, according to the indictment.
The man’s son eventually found out what was going on and put a stop to it, but it was too late. He lost his life savings and had to give up his Manhattan apartment because of the scam, the indictment says.
“Peaches Stergo stole the life savings from an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor who was just looking for companionship. This conduct is sick — and sad,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
Stergo’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday evening.
Sentencing was set for July 27, according to online court records.
Stergo also agreed to pay over $2.8 million in restitution as part of a plea deal, the prosecutor’s office said. Over 100 luxury items were seized, including Rolex watches, gold Cartier bracelets, and Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags, according to court documents.
The FBI warns that romance scammers sometimes use fake profiles to gain people’s trust on dating websites, which eventually leads to asking for money.
In 2021, the law enforcement agency said scammers were using a new tactic of convincing victims to invest in cryptocurrency by falsely claiming insider knowledge and using fake websites.
Last year there were around 19,000 victims of romance scams in the U.S. with almost with almost $740 million in losses, the FBI said.
In 2021 there were around 24,000 victims with losses reported at around $1 billion, according to the agency.