Two people were sentenced Friday to more than a year in prison in connection with a romance scam that cost a 78-year-0ld Virginia man more than $500,000.
Prosecutors said Linda Mbimadong, 29, and Richard Broni, 31, worked with several unnamed co-conspirators to trick elderly victims online into sending them cashier’s checks, wires, and Apple products.
A 78-year-old Virginia man, whose name was redacted in court documents, joined a dating app called iFlirt. He chatted with one of the unnamed co-conspirators he believed to be a “widow from Watertown, New York in her thirties,” according to court documents.
The person sent him photos supposedly of herself that matched that description, the documents said.
The pair talked via email and Google Hangouts. The FBI viewed conversations that spanned from September 2019 to June 2020, according to court documents.
At some point, one of the co-conspirators claimed she was “going to Germany in order to receive an inheritance of gold bars.” She told the man she had been arrested and asked him for money for her release, promising to repay him plus 30%. She put him in touch with someone she claimed was a “financial advisor,” documents said.
The co-conspirators told the man to purchase Apple products and said they would resell them to use the money to free the woman from jail. Over a span of two months, the Virginia man sent 53 packages of Apple products, the court documents said.
That’s when she said she had been arrested again, requesting more money for bail and “for insurance to ship the gold to the United States of America from the Netherlands.” The co-conspirators convinced the man to use money from his IRA.
In total, the Virginia man lost $580,000 in the scams, prosecutors said
Similar romance scams have been staggeringly successful in recent years, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Individuals have lost $1.3 billion in the last five years, the agency said.
The scammers also targeted a second victim, a 74-year-old woman from Englewood, Colorado, who authorities said had been scammed by three different men. She ultimately sent them a cashier’s check for $79,300 from her retirement savings, according to court records.
Prosecutors said Mbimadong and Broni were not directly involved in deceiving victims, but said they accepted the money and laundered it overseas, the Washington Post reported.
“The defendants allegedly impersonated military service members, diplomats, and others to deprive elderly victims of their retirement savings,” said Raj Parek, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, in a May 2021 press release.
In FBI interviews, Broni claimed he initially believed his business dealings were legitimate, but he said he continued laundering money even after he learned it was part of an illegal scam. He estimated that he profited $30,000.
Mbimadong admitted she participated in the criminal enterprise, which she said originated in Ghana.
Ahead of Friday’s sentencing hearing, Mbimadong and Broni issued written apologies in sentencing memos, the Associated Press reported.
“I have to express my ugly truth. I was selfish, ambitious and greedy for success,” wrote Mbimadong, who estimated to the FBI that she profited $250,000 from the scams.
Both Mbimadong and Broni pleaded guilty to engaging in a monetary transaction in criminally derived property and were sentenced to prison for 37 months and 19 months, respectively. Mbimadong agreed to pay $1.3 million in restitution to the victims, while Broni agreed to pay $87,000.
Judge T.S. Ellis said the sentences for Mbimadong and Broni would have been higher but for their cooperation with authorities in identifying others involved in the romance scam, the Post reported.
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