Public Notices and Press Releases

Trio Pleads Guilty to $4.5 Million Romance Fraud Scheme in New Jersey

Authorities Uncover Extensive Online Romance Scam Affecting Over 100 Victims

NEW JERSEY – In a significant development, three individuals have admitted to their roles in a complex romance fraud scheme that swindled more than 100 victims out of over $4.5 million. The case, led by U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger, unveiled a deceitful plot involving online dating sites to exploit vulnerable individuals seeking companionship.

"These defendants took advantage of more than 100 vulnerable victims, preying on their loneliness to convince them to send money to scammers the victims believed were romantic partners. In this way, they stole millions of dollars,said U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger.

Martins Friday Inalegwu, 35, and his wife, Steincy Mathieu, 27, both formerly of Maple Shade, New Jersey, along with Oluwaseyi Fatolu, 56, of Springfield, New Jersey, entered guilty pleas to charges including tax evasion and operating an unlawful money transmitting business. The admissions came before U.S. District Judge Christine P. O’Hearn in Camden federal court, marking a pivotal moment in the fight against online fraud.

From October 2016 to May 2020, Inalegwu, Mathieu, and their co-conspirators, several of whom are based in Nigeria, orchestrated an online romance scam. They initiated contact with victims through dating and social media websites, built emotional relationships via email and phone, and then manipulated victims into sending money for fabricated emergencies. The elaborate ruse led victims to believe they were helping a romantic partner, only to find they were funneling money into a fraudulent operation.

The funds were directed to U.S.-based bank accounts controlled by Inalegwu and Mathieu, with some victims also sending checks or transferring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram. Part of the ill-gotten gains were then moved to accounts in Nigeria and Turkey, with Inalegwu and Mathieu neglecting to pay taxes on the substantial amounts received.

Highlighting the depth of the scheme's impact, authorities have identified victims across the country who sent money directly to the defendants, totaling over $4.5 million. The case underscores the insidious nature of romance scams, which exploit individuals' trust and emotional vulnerability.

However, romance scams take on an insidious level of harm. Few of us would want to admit we fell for this type of scam, but we’re all human and scammers prey on that fact. The subjects are owning up to their crimes, but it may not provide much solace for the victims left broke and heartbroken,” said FBI – Newark Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy.

U.S. Attorney Sellinger, along with officials from the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, IRS-Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, emphasized the commitment of law enforcement to dismantling fraudulent networks and supporting victims. The guilty pleas serve as a warning to fraudsters about the serious consequences of their actions, while also reminding the public to remain vigilant online.

The charges of tax evasion and conducting an unlawful money-transmitting business carry the maximum penalties of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count. The case's resolution marks a significant victory for federal and local agencies working collaboratively to combat financial crimes and protect citizens from exploitation.

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