Three men have been jailed for their role in a romance fraud in which a woman in her sixties lost her life savings.
The three men were arrested by gardaí attached to the National Economic Crime Bureau after the woman became suspicious concerning a man whom she had been messaging online.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that a woman, who does not wish to be named, met a man calling himself Neil Turner on the dating website Plenty of Fish in November 2019.
The two began to message each other romantically, and over 800 pages of messages were downloaded by gardaí. Gardaí linked the fake profile of Neil Turner to three Nigerian nationals living in Ireland.
Omowale Owolabi (31) of Kentswood Court in Navan pleaded guilty to theft. Raak Sami Sadu (32) of Lohunda Downs, Clonsilla, Dublin 15, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud, and Samson Ajayi pleaded guilty (33) of Park Wood, Grangerath in Co Meath pleaded guilty to three money laundering charges.
Judge Martin Nolan sentenced Owolabi to three years and three months in prison. He sentenced Ajayi to two and a half years in prison and Sadu to three years in prison.
The court heard that the fraudsters, using the fake profile, told the woman that Turner had business dealing with oil and gas off the coast of Cork. He also told the woman that he was due to receive a large inheritance.
Turner began to ask the woman for money to help him with his business. In November 2019, she transferred the first of ten payments to Turner. Over the course of six months, the woman transferred just over €254,000 to who she believed was Neil Turner.
Garda John McKenna told Eoghan Cole, BL, prosecuting, that Turner asked the woman to go to Dubai for business as he could not travel due to his work on an oil rig. She was told that her expenses would be reimbursed, and she booked her flights and accommodation and travelled to Dubai in 2019.
The woman was met in Dubai by a group who showed her a bundle of cash, which was told $3.25 million (€3.9 million). They asked her for ID and for $650,000 to release the funds.
She refused to pay the money and said she did not have it. The men told her they would be unable to do business with her and brought her back to her hotel.
The court heard that the woman became frightened after this experience and raised this with Turner.
Turner was now being “quite persistent” but the woman still believed everything that she was being told. He told her that he “had high blood pressure” and he “didn’t know what to do”.
The woman went on to borrow a further €50,000 from a friend and gave it to Turner. After returning from Dubai, suspicions began to creep in, and she contacted gardaí.
Investigators tracked the three accused down using the emails addresses and the bank accounts and went to their home addresses. Gardaí seized several laptops and mobile phones and on these devices gardai found usernames and passwords for the Neil Turner profile on the Plenty of Fish website.
An email account linked to Neil Turner was found, as well as messages outlining how the money collected should be divided up. Other online fake profiles were also found on the devices.
The bank accounts belonging to the three accused were analysed, and it could be seen that Owalabi’s bank account received €164,000 over a period of eight years, €78,000 of which was 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 was received; €280,000 of this could not be explained.
The three men were arrested and interviewed. During Owolabi’s third interview, he made some admissions regarding the Neil Turner dating profile. He said he had been 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 which Owolabi said he bought in Africa for €25,000 were seized by gardai. The watch was appraised and valued at €10,000.
A victim impact statement was handed into the court but not read aloud to protect the victim’s identity. Eoghan Cole, BL, prosecuting, stated the woman had her life savings taken.
Michael O’Higgins SC, defending Ajayi, said his client has been living in Ireland for the past eight years. Ajayi, who is originally from Lagos in Nigeria, is the father of two children and lives in Drogheda. He is remorseful for his actions and entered an early guilty plea.
John Berry, BL, defending Owalabi, said his client was the first of the three men to plead guilty and that this plea should be seen as a sign of remorse. He said his client is aware of the damage he has caused to the victim’s life in this case and that he realises this is a serious crime.
Maurice Coffey, SC, defending Sadu, said his client had brought €2,000 to court for the victim in this case. This is the amount of money that he profited from during the scheme. He said his client has pleaded guilty and has never been before the court before.
The court heard he is remorseful for his actions and that he got involved when a friend asked him to do so. He said he did not realise the scale of the offence at the time.
Mr Coffey said that large amounts of money were being transferred abroad and that his client foolishly got involved and only a very small amount of money went into his account.
Judge Nolan said these men promised certain romantic fulfilment, and they never had any intention of fulfilling. Judge Nolan said the victim in this case fell for the “collective charm” of the three men and that he must punish their behaviour and sentence them in accordance with the law.
Taking their early guilty pleas, their cooperation, expressions of remorse as well as the lack of previous convictions as mitigating factors in the case.
Judge Nolan highlighted that this particular type of fraud was “very wrong” and can do “damage to people” who are so embarrassed and humiliated they don’t want to come forward and inform the gardai.