in Romance Fraud Scheme
CAMDEN, N.J. – A husband and wife from Burlington County, New Jersey, were charged today with conspiring to defraud more than 33 victims into mailing and wiring more than $6 million to them and other conspirators after their conspirators met and wooed the victims on online dating sites, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Martins Friday Inalegwu, 31, and Steincy Mathieu, 24, both of Maple Shade, New Jersey, are charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. Inalegwu was arrested today and made his first appearance by videoconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio. Mathieu remains at large.
According to the documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Between October 2016 and May 13, 2020, Inalegwu, Mathieu and their conspirators, several of whom reside in Nigeria, allegedly participated in an online romance scheme, defrauding victims throughout the country. The conspirators made initial contact with victims through online dating and social media websites, corresponded with them via email and phone, pretended to strike up a romantic relationship with them. They requested the victims send money to them, or their associates, for fictitious emergency needs. For example, the conspirators duped victims into believing that they needed money for customs fees and taxes, medical expenses, travel expenses or business expenses. The individuals whom the victims believed they were speaking to did not exist, and instead they were speaking to the conspirators.
Inalegwu, Mathieu and their conspirators also engaged in apartment rental scams with at least three of the victims. They advertised a property, not owned or controlled by them, for the purpose of collecting money from the victims in the form of application fees and security deposits. The conspirators listed advertisements online, enticed victims with information about the properties, pretended they were authorized to rent the properties, and then directed that the victims complete applications and send money to either Inalegwu, Mathieu or conspirators, in the form of down payments to reserve the properties. After Inalegwu, Mathieu and conspirators collected the money, the victims never heard from them again.
Conspirators used myriad email accounts and phone numbers to communicate with the victims and instruct them on where to wire the money, including recipient names, addresses, financial institutions and account numbers. Victims wired money to bank accounts held by Inalegwu and Mathieu in the United States, and also mails checks directly to Inalegwu and Mathieu. Some victims transferred money to the conspirators via money transfer services, such as Western Union or MoneyGram, and others wired money to bank accounts held by conspirators overseas.
Federal law enforcement agents have identified more than 33 victims, who sent over $6 million to conspirators, $3.1 million of which was sent directly to Inalegwu and Mathieu. Inalegwu and Mathieu spent the victims’ money on personal expenses, withdrew money in cash, transferred money to other bank accounts they personally controlled, and transferred money to bank accounts held by conspirators in Nigeria and Turkey.
The count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud is punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, Atlantic City Resident Agency, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Douglas Korneski in Newark; special agents of Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jason Molina in Newark; special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Montanez; postal inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service under the direction of Inspector in Charge James Buthorn; and special agents of the U.S. Attorney’s Office with the investigation leading to the charges.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Martha K. Nye of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Trenton.
The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.