A couple helped run an international romance scam that used bogus profiles on dating websites to woo dozens of victims into giving up more than $6 million, federal prosecutors said.
Martins Friday Inalegwu and Steincy Mathieu both of Maple Shade, New Jersey, were charged Tuesday with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. Inalegwu, 31, made his initial court appearance later that day, but 24-year-old Mathieu remained at large Wednesday.
The married couple and their conspirators, including several people who live in Nigeria, carried out the scheme from October 2016 through last month, prosecutors said.
Authorities have identified more than 33 victims, who sent more than $6 million overall to the conspirators, including $3.1 million that was sent directly to Inalegwu and Mathieu. The couple spent the money on personal expenses, transferred money to other bank accounts they controlled and moved funds to bank accounts held by conspirators in Nigeria and Turkey.
The conspirators made initial contact with victims through online dating and social media websites, then corresponded with them via email and phone, authorities said. They used fictitious identities and pretended to strike up a romantic relationship with them and asked the victims to send money to them, or their associates, for fictitious emergency needs.
The conspirators also defrauded people by advertising properties they didn’t own and collecting application fees and security deposits on those properties, authorities said.