(NJ.COM) A South Jersey man on Wednesday admitted to a scheme that bilked at least 40 victims out of more than $1 million using bogus online dating profiles that claimed to be from U.S. military personnel stationed overseas, officials said.
Rubbin Sarpong pleaded guilty in Camden federal court to charges of conspiring to commit wire fraud, conspiring to commit money laundering and tax evasion, according to New Jersey Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig.
Sarpong, of Millville, along with conspirators living in Ghana, created fake profiles on various dating websites, including Plenty of Fish, Ourtime.com, and Match.com, in the fraud that lasted from January 2016 to Sept. 3, 2019, according to court documents.
The scammers contacted victims using the dating sites and pretended to strike up romantic relationships with them, the documents stated.
As part of the online relationships, the conspirators asked the targets for money for the purported purpose of paying to ship gold bars to the United States, authorities said.
“Although the stories the co-conspirators told the victims varied, most often the co-conspirators claimed to be members of the United States military stationed in Syria who received, recovered, or were awarded gold bars,” a document filed in the case said.
“The co-conspirators told many victims that their money would be returned once the gold bars were received in the United States. In most cases, the co-conspirators introduced additional fictitious persons with whom the victims were directed to correspond to make arrangements for the payment of monies and the shipment of the gold bars to the United States,” the court document said.
The scam also involved using various email accounts and internet calling services, according to authorities. Investigators discovered at least 40 victims wired money to Sarpong and others through 13 bank accounts he controlled, some of those in the names of his friends, relatives and a fake business.
During the scam, Sarpong – who was identified in court papers as a Ghanaian citizen and a legal permanent resident of the United States – bought property in Ghana and posted photos on social media of himself with large amounts of cash, luxury cars, designer clothing and pricey jewelry, authorities said.
He received approximately $1.14 million in taxable income from the scheme from 2016 through 2018, but didn’t file income tax returns and paid no income tax, causing a tax loss of $387,923, according to court papers.
Officials said Sarpong agreed in his plea to make restitution for the full amount of the loss from his scam, estimated at $1.76 million and pay back the Internal Revenue Service.
The conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering charges each carry a maximum possible penalty of 20 years behind bars and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the crime, whichever is greatest, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. The tax evasion charge has a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Sarpong is scheduled to be sentenced March 21, 2022. An attorney listed for Sarpong could not be immediately reached to comment.