Three men have been jailed for their roles in a romance scam in which a woman in her 60s lost her life savings.
The three men were arrested by gardaí attached to the National Economic Crime Bureau after the woman became suspicious of a man she had been messaging online.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that the woman, who did not want to be named, met a man known as Neil Turner on dating website Plenty of Fish in November 2019.
The two began messaging each other romantically, and 800 pages of messages were downloaded by gardaí.
Gardai linked Neil Turner’s fake profile to three Nigerian nationals living in Ireland.
Omowale Owolabi (31) of Kentwood Court in Navan pleaded guilty to theft. Rock Sami Sidhu (32) of Lohanda Downs, Clonsilla, Dublin 15, admitted conspiracy to defraud. And Samson Ajay (33) of Parkwood, Co Meath, Greengrath admitted three counts of money laundering.
Judge Martin Nolan sentenced Owolabi to three years and three months in prison. He sentenced Ajay to two-and-a-half years and Sidhu to three years.
The court heard that the fraudsters used a fake profile to tell the woman that Turner had an oil and gas business off the coast of Cork. He also told the woman that she was going to receive a large inheritance.
He started asking the woman for money to help him in his business. In November 2019, he made the first of ten payments to Turner. Over the course of six months he transferred just over €254,000 into a fake identity.
Garda John McKenna, prosecuting, told Eoghan Cole, BL, that Turner asked the woman to go to Dubai on business because he was unable to travel because he was working on an oil rig. He was told his expenses would be reimbursed, and he booked his flights and accommodation and traveled to Dubai in 2019.
The woman was met by a group in Dubai who showed her a bundle of cash, said to be worth $3.25 million. They asked him for $650,000 to release the ID and funds.
He refused to give the money and said he didn’t have it. The men told him they would not be able to do business with him and brought him back to their hotel. The court heard the woman was terrified after the experience but still believed everything Turner told her.
The woman borrowed another 50,000 euros from a friend and gave it to him. After returning from Dubai, suspicions began to arise and he contacted gardaí.
Investigators traced the three suspects using email addresses and bank accounts and went to their home addresses. Gardaí seized a number of laptops and mobile phones and on these devices gardaí found usernames and passwords for the Turner profile on the Plenty of Fish website.
An email account linked to Neil Turner was found, along with messages about how to distribute the money raised. Other online fake profiles were also found on the devices.
All three men were arrested and interviewed. During Owolabi’s third interview, he made some admissions regarding the Turner profile. He said he was involved in the trip to Dubai and received €30,000 for his role in the scheme.
In addition, a Mercedes car valued at €16,000 and a Rolex watch that Owolabi said he bought for €25,000 were seized by gardaí. The watch was appraised and valued at 10,000 euros.
A confession was also made by Ajay, who denied involvement in wrongdoing and said he had received the money but did not know what he was doing was wrong. Sado made limited admissions to gardaí during the interview and exercised his right to remain silent.
A victim impact statement was given in court but was not read aloud to protect the victim’s identity. Eoghan Cole, BL, prosecuting, said the woman took her life savings.
Judge Nolan said the men had promised some romantic consummation and had no intention of ever delivering. Judge Nolan said the victim in this case was subjected to the “collective attention” of the three men and should be punished for their behavior and punished according to the law.
Taking their initial guilty pleas, their cooperation, expressions of remorse as well as lack of prior convictions as mitigating factors at trial.