Three men have been jailed today for their roles in a romance fraud during which hundreds of thousands of euro was stolen from a 66-year-old woman over a six month period.
The men set up a fake profile on a dating account and took over €282,000 from the woman which they claimed was for food and an exploration business.
They also sent her to Dubai where she was asked for another $650,000 before she contacted the gardaí.
Omowale Owalabi, 31, from Kentswood Court in Navan pleaded guilty to theft; Rasak Sadu, 30, from Lohunda Downs, Clonsilla in Dublin admitted conspiracy to defraud while Samson Ajayi, 33, from Park Wood, Grangerath in Co Meath pleaded guilty to three money laundering charges.
Detective Garda John McKenna told the court that a fake profile was set up on the 'Plenty of Fish' dating site in the name of Neil Turner and there was extensive contact with the woman, over 800 pages of messages and expressions of romance.
She also received requests for money to support 'Neil Turner's' Oil and Gas exploration company off the coast of Cork.
She was told an inheritance was due and she would get the money back but in the six months from 7 November 2019 to 5 May 2020 she transferred over €282,707.51. Of this, €27,760 was returned to her because of a transfer error.
The money was handed over in ten transactions of between €3,500 and €70,000.
She went to Dubai in 2019 after she was asked to act as proxy for the fraudsters to get funds. She was told 'Mr Turner' could not go because he was on an oil rig.
She arranged the flights and accommodation herself and was met there by people who sought her ID, passport details and presented her with documentation to sign.
They showed her what they said was a bundle of $3.25 million and asked for $650,000 to release it.
When she told them she did not have the money, they dropped her back to her hotel and she returned to Dublin frightened by her experience.
However, the fraudsters reassured her and she complied with further requests for money.
She even borrowed $50,000 from a friend and gave it to them because she did not have it.
The woman thought the account and the requests for money were genuine. She was once told the money was for food for the oil rig workers.
The fraudsters were "quite persistent" and she believed everything she was told. They told her they had "high blood pressure", they "needed help" and "didn't know what to do".
She had a successful career before she was defrauded. Her life savings were taken from her before she went to the gardaí.
The Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation identified the three men in Ireland as being involved.
They found extracts of the messages on Rasak Sadu's iPhone and found references to various user accounts and other fake personas with romantic encounters for money.
At least two other people were targeted but these people did not send any money. Sadu received money directly from the victim in this case and transferred it to others.
They found references to the victim on Samson Ajayi 's laptop, emails from 'Neil Turner' and other data relating to similar romance fraud.
They also found 'Neil Turner' account data and messages with the victim on Omowale Owalabi's iPhone, as well as discussions about dividing up the money among those involved.
On his laptop they found the username and password for the 'Neil Turner' account as well as messages from 'Mark' to other people with a similar story to 'Neil Turner' and requests for money.
Owalabi's bank account received €164,000 over eight years, €78,000 of which was unexplained. He bought a Mercedes and a Rolex watch for €25,000.
Ajayi had two accounts, one with €85,000 in five years, another a business account in the name of a logistics company with €73,000 in six months.
The court heard over €319,000 was received over a three and-a-half year period, €280,000 of which was unexplained.
All three men said they were sorry for what they had done
Judge Martin Nolan said what they did was "very wrong".
They promised romance and never had any intention of fulfilling that promise.
Their ambition, he said, was to extract as much cash as possible and they were trying to entice others into the scheme.
The woman lost a quarter of a million euro, "a huge amount of money".
These frauds, the judge said, "damage" people because they are so "embarrassed and humiliated by their own stupidity and they don't tell the guards". He also said "everyone is stupid at some stage".
He jailed Samson Ajayi for three and a half years, Rasak Sadu for three years and Omowale Owalabi for two and a half years.
Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan from the National Economic Crime Bureau said it is the first time anyone has been jailed in Ireland for the crime of romance fraud.
"It was a significant conviction and victims should not be afraid or embarrassed to come forward, there is no victim blaming and anyone can be a victim of a crime like this," he added.