Man in US gets 4.5 years for role in US$8mil online romance scam

BOSTON: A Massachusetts man convicted of helping steal millions of dollars from hundreds of people in online romance scams, often regaling the victims with stories of oil rig explosions and foreign jails, has been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison.

Kofi Osei, 30, and his alleged accomplices from 2016 to 2020 targeted mostly older people seeking companionship by creating fake online dating profiles, prosecutors said in a statement Tuesday.

They gradually gained their victims' trust before directing them to transfer money to one of dozens of bank accounts Osei opened using fake passports, aliases and phony business names, federal prosecutors said in a statement. Once the money was in the bank account, it was quickly withdrawn.

Some of the money was used to buy cars that were sent to Nigeria and sold, prosecutors said.

The scheme received more than US$8mil in proceeds, US$4mil of which went directly into accounts that Osei opened and controlled, prosecutors said.

Among the victims was a Florida woman who sent more than US$200,000 to accounts Osei controlled after being told that her online boyfriend needed funds to secure his release from custody following an explosion on his oil rig, according to court records.

Another victim from California sent US$65,000 to an account Osei controlled after being told the money was needed to support employees injured in an accident at the overseas worksite of her online boyfriend and to release him from jail, prosecutors said. The woman was "left financially and emotionally devastated," prosecutors said.

Osei was arrested in February 2021 and pleaded guilty in September to making a false statement to a bank, wire fraud and money laundering. He was also ordered to pay more than $4 million in restitution and forfeiture.

Federal prosecutors had asked for a nine-year sentence.

Osei grew up in poverty in Ghana and came to the US legally to pursue a professional soccer career, his attorney said in court documents. The defense sought leniency, saying Osei was remorseful and a loving father with no prior criminal history who made "a poor and misguided decision." – AP

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