A total of 34 Nigerians were indicted by federal grand juries in the Northern and Eastern districts of Texas. The suspects range from 23 to 53 years old and include females as well. Eleven suspects were indicted by the Northern District, while the remaining individuals were indicted by the Eastern District.
According to the Northern District’s indictment, the 11 suspects targeted the elderly on dating sites like Match.com, ChistianMingle, JSwipe, and PlentyofFish, using fake identities. After earning the victims’ trust, the defendants allegedly lied about needing money for various reasons and taking money out of the victims’ accounts, tens of thousands of dollars at a time.
“Crimes like these are especially despicable because they rely not only on victims’ lack of internet savvy, but also, their isolation, their loneliness, and sometimes their grief. As the victims open their hearts, the perpetrators open their wallets,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shahs. “The only mistake these victims make is being generous to the wrong people.”
All 11 suspects were arrested during a large-scale operation last Wednesday. They have been charged with multiple financial crimes, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. Multiple suspects also have alleged ties to a transnational organized crime syndicate in Nigeria.
An additional 23 Nigerians were arrested and indicted in the Eastern District on similar charges. In the indictment, the defendants are accused of using additional scams to obtain at least $17 million from at least 100 individual victims, companies, and government entities from across the world. The money was then allegedly laundered and sent to co-conspirators and businesses located in Africa and Asia.
“The criminal conduct alleged in this case is sophisticated in its means, expansive in its scope, and callous in its aims,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei. “The indictment alleges a scheme where all manner of fraud — including romance and investment scams — was unleashed on an unsuspecting American public, including the elderly and most vulnerable, with the ill-gotten gains siphoned off and funneled overseas. The amount of loss, both financial and emotional, alleged in this case is nothing short of staggering.”
The FBI estimates that more than 20,000 people lost more than $600 million in romance scams last year. In both indictments, the defendants face 20 years in federal prison. Those charged with money laundering conspiracy face an additional 10 years in federal prison.