A husband and wife in Burlington County have been charged with conspiring to steal more than $6 million in an international romance scam involving victims found online, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
Martins Friday Inalegwu, 31, a Nigerian national, and Steincy Mathieu, 24, an American citizen, were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. Inalegwu was arrested Tuesday and Mathieu remains at large.
The couple, who had been living in Maple Shade, conspired with others, including several people in Nigeria, said U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito. Between October 2016 and May 13, 2020, the conspirators found victims on dating sites and social media, then corresponded with them through email and by phone.
They allegedly duped victims into sending them money for fake emergencies and other fictitious needs. They also allegedly engaged in an apartment rental scam with at least three victims.
Inalegwu and Mathieu spent the money they collected on personal expenses and also transferred funds to bank accounts used by conspirators in Nigeria and Turkey.
Investigators identified 33 victims, but several million dollars were gained from duping one woman who resorted to embezzling her employer, prosecutors said.
According to the criminal complaint against Inalegwu, the victim began corresponding through Match.com with a person claiming to be named “George Marek,” who was from Kentucky but had relocated to Austin, Texas, following the death of his wife.
"Marek" told the victim he bought and sold jewels for a living. After about six weeks of developing what the victim believed was a romantic relationship, "Marek" started asking for money. "Marek" then claimed he was having business troubles and medical expenses and needed more money.
The victim exhausted her savings, liquidated her retirement account, borrowed from family and friends, maxed out her credit cards, and took out a personal loan to continue sending money to "Marek."
She then began stealing from her employer. The victim funneled more than $4 million to the conspirators, prosecutors said.
The victim was charged in local court with stealing the money and pleaded guilty, according to the criminal complaint.