FOUR men involved in a ‘cruel’ internet dating scam in which lonely women were conned out of £220,000 have been jailed for a total of more than 13 years.
Vulnerable victims targeted on Match.com thought they were contacting a middle-aged man called James Richards.
But it was a fake profile that had been set up to net cash.
The victims handed over £220,000 in total. One victim, Suzanne Hardman, was tricked into paying out her £174,000 life savings.
Emmanuel Oko, 30, and Chukwuka Ugwu, 29, admitted money laundering.
Oko also admitted fraud by false representation by using a false alias to set up a fictitious profile on the match.com.
Monty Emu, 28, Adewunmi Nusi, 37, were found guilty of money laundering following a trial.
Judge Susan Evans QC, sentencing, at Winchester Crown Court, said Oko was ‘right at the heart’ of the ‘cruel’scam.
Addressing him Judge Evans said: ‘Mr Oko, this was a highly sophisticated conspiracy to defraud. It preyed upon the trusting, the lonely and the emotionally vulnerable.
‘The amount of planning and organisation involved in this scam was in my view substantial.’
A statement read out in court on behalf of victim Ms Hardman said: ‘From the day I reported the incident I have felt very vulnerable, sick to my stomach and ashamed.
‘I never expected someone could get to me in this way. I feel that I have lost some self-respect because of this.’
She added in the statement: ‘The money itself was there to act as a pension for me and to support my family as I got old and that’s gone.
‘You could say I’ve lost everything.’
Another victim, Michelle Sparham, who read her statement, said she had lost all confidence and interest in her hobby of marathon running.
She said she cannot trust any adult, has gained weight, suffered health problems and has selective mutism as a result of her ordeal.
Mrs Sparham told the court: ‘Since this deceit against me I don’t think I deserve any pleasure because I was so naive in my judgement and feel the need to punish myself.’
Emu, of Frensham Road, Southsea, and Nusi, of Bomford Close, Thatcham, Berkshire had denied money laundering between August 2012 and December 2013.
Emu was jailed for three-and-a-half years and Nusi received an 18-month jail term.
Neither Emu of Nusi were accused of setting up the fake profile on Match.com.
Oko, of Waverley Grove, Southsea, was jailed for eight years.
Ugwu, of Somers Road, Somers Town, Portsmouth, received a 46-week prison sentence.
Oko’s estranged wife Brooke Boston, 28, was earlier cleared of committing fraud by false representation by using a false alias to create a fictitious profile on Match.com between March 2012 and February 2014.
Boston, of Common Lane, Titchfield, was also cleared of money laundering between August 2012 and December 2013.
A sixth person, Eberechi Ekpo, 26, of Adair Road, Southsea, was cleared of fraud by false representation and money laundering.
Ugwu, Nusi, Oko and Emu could now be ordered to repay some of their criminal gains under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Oko, Emu and Nusi face deportation after serving their jail terms as they were each sentenced to more than 12 months in prison.