A US court on Thursday sentenced a Nigerian, Olayinka Ilumsa Sunmola, to 27 years in jail for international romance scam he perpetrated from 2007 to 2014.
Lagos-born Sunmola, who was the ringleader of a love scam organisation based in South Africa, was also ordered to repay $1.7m.
Judge David Herndon of a US district Court in East St. Louis heard how Sumola and others scammed many American women of millions of dollars while parading themselves as American soldiers stationed overseas or engineers working on a large government contract in South Africa.
They cultivated romantic relationships with dozens of women using pictures of men they found online, sometimes pictures of dead servicemen from memorial websites.
Prosecutors said Sumola’s activities drove some to bankruptcy and at least one to the brink of suicide.
The 33-year-old showered the women with poetry, cards, flowers, stuffed animals, and chocolates until he has successfully entrapped them. Once his target his entrapped, Sunmola began to manufacture emergencies, each of which required increasingly large amounts of money from his victims.
Sunmola used their money for lavish parties, two Range Rovers, four properties in South Africa and a $363,000 home in Nigeria, prosecutors said.
A federal grand jury sitting in East St. Louis indicted Sunmola in November 2013 on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, and interstate extortion.
After two days of a jury trial Sunmola pleaded guilty to eight felonies, including mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, and interstate extortion.
In his ruling Judge Herndon said, “‘Conspiracy,’ ‘mail and wire fraud,’ and ‘interstate extortion’ hardly sound like the kinds of crimes that leave broken lives, wrecked women, fractured families, devastation, desires to die, humiliation and shame so extreme.
“But then, his charm turned to bullying, name calling, extortion, unthinkable demands and threats. Thoughts of paradise turned into thoughts of hell and, for some, thoughts of suicide. The most devastating crime one could ever imagine without laying hands or even eyes on another human being.”
When Sunmola has completed his 27-year prison term, he will be deported to Nigeria.
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