TWO ‘devious’ men face jail after being convicted of money laundering over an internet dating website scam in which vulnerable women looking for love were duped out of £220,000.
Monty Emu, 28, and Adewunmi Nusi, 37, were both found guilty in a majority verdict following a trial over the Match.com scam at Winchester Crown Court.
Emu, of Frensham Road, Southsea, and Nusi, of Bomford Close, Thatcham, Berkshire had denied money laundering between August 2012 and December 2013.
Winchester Crown Court heard the victims thought they were contacting a middle-aged man called James Richards on Match.com.
In fact, the 12-strong jury was told, 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 £174,000.
Neither Emu of Nusi were accused of setting up the fake profile on Match.com.
Meanwhile Brooke Boston, 28, sobbed in the dock as a 12-strong jury found her not guilty 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.
Her estranged husband Emmanuel Oko, 29, of Waverley Grove, Southsea, and Chukwuka Ugwu, 28, of Somers Road, Somers Town, Portsmouth, have each admitted money laundering.
Oko has also admitted fraud by false representation.
Both men could receive prison sentences.
The court heard that after contact was made via Match.com, victims received lengthy ‘protestations of love’ and affectionate messages from ‘James Richards,’ the profile set up by Oko.
Prosecutor Simon Edwards said there is evidence that on some occasions the same email was sent to a number of recipients in what he described as a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
As the ‘relationships’ developed contact moved away from Match.com to personal emails and text messages, when requests for money started.
Mr Edwards said ‘James Richards’ had claimed he was due to inherit £100m following the death of his father, but that the money was in a bank in India and he needed cash to help free it up.
On occasions when women handed over money they would receive certificates in return.
Some also received a copy of a passport purporting to belong to James Richards.
But the passport was fake.
In a statement Det Con Darrin Carey from Hampshire police said: ‘This case centres around a web of lies constructed by a devious group of people with the sole intention of exploiting emotionally vulnerable women for financial gain.’
A sixth person, Eberechi Ekpo, was earlier cleared of fraud by false representation and money laundering.
It can now be reported for the first time after reporting restrictions were lifted that Ekpo, 26, of Adair Road, Southsea admitted possessing 414.1g of cannabis with intent to supply worth ‘something in the region’ of £3,900 at his home on February 19.
Ekpo was given a 12-month conditional discharge.
Police praise for scam victims who came forward
VICTIMS of the Match.com scam who came forward and gave evidence during the trial have been praised by Hampshire police.
Det Con Darrin Carey spoke out as it was revealed an application will be made to the court for the crooks to repay their criminal gains.
He said: ‘The women were duped into thinking that they were talking to a man who was genuinely looking for love on the dating website Match.com. Unfortunately for them, they were part of an elaborate scam.
‘These verdicts should send out a clear message to people who think they can hide behind fake profiles, and carry out these scams again and again, that they will be caught and dealt with by the courts.
‘I would like to thank the women involved in this case for their courage in coming forward to report this and also for going through the distressing experience of giving evidence about a very personal subject.’
Simon Edwards, principal crown advocate for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: ‘We hope that with these convictions the victims in this case who lost a considerable amount of money and, understandably, could have lost confidence in themselves, will be able to move on with their lives now that the offenders have been brought before the court.’