Three men are jailed for their roles in a romance fraud in which a woman in her sixties lost her life savings.
Three men were arrested by Gardai, affiliated with the National Economic Offenses Bureau, after the woman suspected a man she was texting online.
The Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that a woman, who did not wish to be named, met a man calling himself Neil Turner on the dating website Planty of Fish in November 2019.
The two began messaging each other romantically, and over 800 pages of messages were downloaded by Gardai. Gardai linked Neil Turner’s fake profile to three Nigerian citizens living in Ireland.
Omovale Owolabi (31) of the Kentwood Court in Navan pleaded guilty to theft. Rak Sami Saadu (32), of Lohunda Downs, Clonsilla, Dublin 15, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud, and Samson Ajayi pleaded guilty to Park Wood’s (33), in cum Meath Grangerath pleaded guilty to three money laundering charges. convicted for
Judge Martin Nolan sentenced Owolaby to three years and three months in prison. He sentenced Ajayi to two and a half years and Saadu three years in jail.
The court heard that the fraudsters, using fake profiles, told the woman that Turner had an oil and gas business off the coast of Cork. He also told the woman that he was going to get a big inheritance.
Turner began asking the woman for money to help with her business. In November 2019, she transferred the first of ten payments to Turner. Over the course of six months, the woman transferred over €254,000 to what she believed to be Neil Turner.
Garda John McKenna told prosecutors BL Eoghan Cole that Turner asked the woman to go to Dubai on business because he could not travel because of his work on an oil rig. She was told that her expenses would be reimbursed, and she booked her flights and accommodation and traveled to Dubai in 2019.
A group in Dubai met the woman, who showed her a bundle of cash, which was said to be $3.25 million in US dollars. They asked him for ID and $650,000 to release the funds.
He refused to pay the money and said that he did not have it. The men told her that they would be unable to do business with her and brought her back to their hotel.
The court heard that the woman became horrified after this experience and took up the matter with Turner.
Turner was now becoming “quite firm” but the woman still believed everything that was being told to her. He told her that he “had high blood pressure” and that he “didn’t know what to do”.
The woman borrowed another €50,000 from a friend and gave it to Turner. Suspicions arose after his return from Dubai and he contacted Gardai.
Investigators traced the three accused using email addresses and bank accounts and went to their home addresses. Gardai confiscated several laptops and mobile phones, and on these devices, Gardai found the username and password for the Neil Turner profile on the Planet of Fish website.
An email account linked to Neil Turner was found, along with a message about how the money collected should be divided. Other online fake profiles were also found on the devices.
The bank accounts of the three accused were analyzed, and it can be seen that €164,000 were received in Ovalabi’s bank account over a period of eight years, of which €78,000 were unexplained.
Ajayi had two bank accounts, one personal and one business account. His personal account received €85,000 over a five-year period, and his business account received €73,000 over a six-month period.
Over a period of three and a half years, €319,000 were received; €280,000 of this could not be explained.
The three youths were arrested and interrogated. During Ovolabi’s third interview, she admitted something regarding the Neil Turner dating profile. He said he was involved in a trip to Dubai and received €30,000 for his role in the scheme.
In addition, a Mercedes car worth €16,000 and a Rolex watch Ovolabi said he had bought in Africa for €25,000 were confiscated by Gardai. The watch was appraised and priced at €10,000.
Admissions were also made by Ajayi, who denied involvement in the wrongdoing and said that he had received the money but did not know that what he was doing was wrong. Sadu made limited entry into Gardai during the interview and exercised his right to silence.
A victim impact statement was handed over to the court but was not read aloud to protect the identity of the victim. Prosecutor BL Eghan Cole said the woman took away her life’s savings.
Michael O’Higgins SC defends Ajay, saying his client has been living in Ireland for the past eight years. Ajayi, originally from Lagos, Nigeria, is the father of two children and lives in Drogheda. He is remorseful for his actions and entered a preliminary guilty plea.
John Berry, BL, defended Ovalabi, saying that his client was the first of three men to plead guilty and that the plea should be seen as a sign of remorse. He said that his client was aware of the loss to the life of the victim in this case and knew that it was a serious offence.
Maurice Coffey, SC, defended Sadu, saying that his client had brought in court €2,000 for the victim in the case. This is the amount that he earned during the scheme. He said that his client has confessed to his crime and he has never been before the court before.
The court heard that he was remorseful for his actions and joined in when a friend asked him to do so. He said he did not realize the scale of the crime at the time.
Mr Coffey said a large amount of money was being transferred overseas and that his client involved foolishly and only a very small amount went into his account.
Judge Nolan said that these men had promised some romantic fulfillment, and they had no intention of ever fulfilling it. Judge Nolan said the victim in the case fell to the “collective attraction” of the three men and that she should punish their behavior and punish them in accordance with the law.
Taking their initial guilty pleas, their cooperation, expressions of remorse as well as lack of previous convictions as mitigating factors in the case.
Judge Nolan highlighted that this particular type of fraud was “very wrong” and could “harm people” who are so embarrassed and humiliated that they don’t want to come forward and notify the guards.