A Missouri man was sentenced to spend 63 months in a federal prison on Oct. 8 in connection with a romance scheme that bilked 24 senior citizens out of more than $574,000. The 30-year-old St. Louis resident pleaded guilty in March 2020 to a single count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. If the man had been found guilty by a jury, he could have been sentenced to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay a $250,000 fine. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri.

Dating websites and social media

According to court documents, the man worked with an unspecified number of Nigerian co-conspirators to defraud the elderly community in Missouri and other states. The victims of the fraud were approached on dating websites and via social media. They were then wooed romantically and encouraged to send money to the man’s residence. The man was able to avoid meeting his victims in person by telling them that he was working abroad or serving with the U.S. military overseas.

Money mule

Federal prosecutors referred to the man as a “money mule.” They claim that he passed some of the money he received to his co-conspirators in Nigeria. His role in the romance scheme is said to have been significant because he was able to check the spelling, punctuation and grammar of messages that had been written by the others involved. All of the victims were over 60 years of age.

Challenging wiretaps and computer searches

The information age has made it easier for U.S. attorneys to prosecute white-collar crime cases because of new sources of information like instant messages, emails and wire transfers, but electronic evidence is not always admissible in court. Experienced criminal law attorneys could challenge the validity of computer searches and wiretaps if the investigators involved lacked probable cause or exceeded the scope of search or surveillance warrants.