By: Yuritza Arroyo
Burlington County authorities announced that a husband and wife, former residents, and a Nigerian national were indicted for their roles in an online romance fraud and other internet frauds, resulting in the loss of $4.5 million to over 100 victims.
According to officials, Martins Inalegwu, 34, of Philadelphia, Steincy Mathieu, 26, of Brooklyn, New York, and Moses Chukwuebuka Alexander of Nigeria, were indicted on April 6 for various charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, transacting in criminal proceeds, and tax evasion.
Authorities say a fourth defendant, Oluwaseyi Fatolu of Springfield, was indicted for conducting an unlawful money-transmitting business. Fatolu was arraigned on April 12 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sharon A. King in Camden federal court.
Inalegwu and Mathieu are scheduled to be arraigned before Judge King on April 20. Alexander remains at large.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Between April 2016 and May 2020, Inalegwu, Mathieu, Alexander, and their conspirators, several of whom reside in Nigeria, allegedly participated in an online romance scheme, defrauding more than 100 victims nationwide.
Court documents state the conspirators made initial contact with victims through online dating and social media websites, then corresponded with victims via email and phone, pretended to strike up a romantic relationship with victims, wooed them with words of love, and then requested the victims send money to them, or their associates, for fictitious emergency needs.
In all instances, the individuals whom the victims believed they were speaking to did not exist, and instead, they were speaking to the conspirators of this scheme.
Inalegwu, Mathieu, and their conspirators engaged in apartment rental scams wherein they advertised the rental of 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.
After Inalegwu, Mathieu, and the conspirators collected the money, the victims never heard from them again.
Officials say 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 mailed checks directly to Inalegwu and Mathieu.
According to officials, 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 100 victims who sent a total of $4.5 million directly to Inalegwu and Mathieu, who spent the 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 Alexander and other conspirators in Nigeria and Turkey.
Inalegwu also used the unlicensed money-transmitting business run by Fatolu to send money to Nigeria.
Fatolu operated a “hawala system,” wherein she directed Inalegwu and other customers to deposit money into her bank accounts and the accounts of her associates in the United States and, after that, facilitated the movement of corresponding money into the destination bank account overseas, as directed by the customer.
According to officials, Fatolu charged a fee for this service. Inalegwu and Mathieu failed to report the income derived from the victims and evaded the tax payment on the entirety of this victim's money.
The counts of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and money laundering are each punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The count of transacting in criminal proceeds is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The counts of tax evasion are each punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The count of an unlicensed money transmitting is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.