Cumberland County man sentenced to 14 years in prison for romance fraud

A Cumberland County man was sentenced today to 168 months in prison for conspiring to commit wire and money laundering, and tax evasion, in connection with a romance fraud scheme, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.

Rubbin Sarpong, 38, of Millville, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Renée Marie Bumb to an information charging him with conspiring to commit wire fraud, conspiring to commit money laundering and tax evasion. Judge Bumb imposed the sentence today in Camden federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, Sarpong and his conspirators, several of whom reside in Ghana, allegedly participated in an online romance scheme, defrauding victims in New Jersey and elsewhere from January 2016 to Sept. 3, 2019.

Sarpong and the conspirators established dating profiles on various websites, using fictitious or stolen identities and posing as United States military personnel who were stationed overseas.

They contacted victims through the dating websites and then pretended to strike up a romantic relationship with them.

After establishing virtual romantic relationships with victims on the online dating platforms and via email, the conspirators asked them for money, often for the purported purpose of paying to ship gold bars to the United States.

Although the stories varied, most often Sarpong and the conspirators claimed to be military personnel stationed in Syria who received, recovered, or were awarded gold bars. The conspirators told many victims that their money would be returned once the gold bars were received in the United States. 

Sarpong and the conspirators used several email accounts and Voice Over Internet Protocol phone numbers to communicate with victims and instruct them on where to wire money, including recipient names, addresses, financial institutions, and account numbers.

At least 40 identified victims wired money to Sarpong and others in the United States, including to 13 bank accounts controlled by Sarpong, some of which were in the names of his friends, relatives, and a fictitious business entity, Rubbin Sarpong Autosales.

Occasionally, victims also mailed personal checks or cashier’s checks to the conspirators and also transferred money to the conspirators via money transfer services, such as Western Union and MoneyGram.

The funds were not used for the purposes claimed by the conspirators – that is, to transport non-existent gold bars to the United States – but were instead withdrawn in cash, wired to other domestic bank accounts, and wired to other conspirators in Ghana.

While engaged in this fraud, Sarpong purchased property in Ghana and posted photographs of himself on social media showing him with large amounts of cash, high-end cars, designer clothing and expensive jewelry.

Despite having received approximately $1.14 million in taxable income from the scheme during tax years 2016 through 2018, Sarpong filed no income tax returns and paid no income tax, resulting in a tax loss of $387,923.

In addition to the prison term, Judge Bumb sentenced Sarpong to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay restitution of $3.08 million to 36 victims, $387,923 to IRS, $4,096 to the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services and $6,903 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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