Sunday, January 21, 2024

Classic Baggie: Part Three - the Romance Scam Victims

 If you are just joining us, we are reviewing the court transcripts of a Business Email Compromise / Romance Scam Money Laundering case.  Part One reveals "Classic Baggie: A Delaware BEC Case calls him the leader of an International Criminal Organization" and Part Two was called "Classic Baggie: Part 2 - How to run a Money Laundering Operation."

Today, we'll share the stories of three of the romance scam victims in this case. I would normally address them by their surnames as Mr. X or Mrs. Y out of respect, but to help protect their anonymity, I'm using only their first names.

Sally From Ohio

Sally was a 74-year old Ohio woman. Her husband of 42 years passed away in February of 2016. Three years later, Sally joined several online dating websites, including In August 2019, she received a message from "Harry Oppenheimer" who was a 79-year old man living in Chicago, a dual citizen of the US and Switzerland, and a semi-retired aeronautical engineer. They talked daily by phone, text, or email and Sally believed she would spend the rest of her days with him.

In September 2019, Mr. Oppenheimer began to ask Sally for financial favors. He claimed he was selected as an independent contractor to rebuild a fleet of airplanes for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, who had wired him $3.5 Million Euros into his Swiss bank account at Neue Privat Bank. His attorney, Phillip Richardson, said that he had to fly to Switzerland to unfreeze the funds. He provided Sally with a bank statement showing his account held 5,239,800.38 Euros.

In order to unfreeze the account, his attorney needed him to bring a "refundable deposit" of $240,000.

The Email from the attorney read:

"I really abhor putting your hopes up, but I can guarantee we can resolve this muddle amicably by resulting into making the payment of the refundable $240,000 security deposit. This will help in securing the money laundering certificate, as well as qualify Harry Oppenheimer to be cleared by anti-terrorist and money laundering departments. It will also hasting up the process of the funds release. Please be advised that this is a mere suggestion as I still need to contact authorities involved in this, those Harry worked with/for, to get all necessary documentation in place. I also need to get in touch with the IMF money laundering department to be fully guaranteed that."

A second request came on 04DEC2019 after Sally had sent the $240,000, stating that an additional $511,000 was also needed,and included a promisary note that Sally "will be refunded and paid" once Harry was able to gain full access to his funds "in the amount of $5,239,800 in NPB."

On 13MAR2020, a new document came from the "International Monetary Fund."

"Per your last request, having thoroughly examined the situation on ground, the board has decided that we will not be held responsible in any way for the misconduct of your former attorney, Phillip Richardson. You solely appointed him your representative with all parties involved granting him full power of attorney. In conclusion, the contractor's funds that were initially set to be released on the 16th of January 2020, shall now be rescheduled for April 2nd, 2020, provided that Harry Oppenheimer completes the final payment of $200,000 before the deadline."

Sally wired $511,000 on or about 06DEC2019 to "Debbie" who Mr. Oppenheimer represented was the wife of an attorney named Charles Schneider. (This wire was recalled by the bank.)

Sally also wired $261,000 on 13DEC2019 from a Navy Federal Credit Union account in the name of Top Slope Ventures, LLC. (We saw in Part 2 that Top Slope Ventures is the name of Michael Hermann's watch-selling business.)

She also wired $150,000 on 26MAR2020 to a Citibank account in the name of KLAM Properties.

She was also instructed by "Attorney Phillip Richardson" to wire funds to a bank account associated with the Mullings Group LLC at Delta Community Credit Union.

Richard From Delaware

Richard is a 66-year old man who lives in Delaware, married, but separated from his spouse for four years. He worked selling medical devices in 2019 and 2020, the period of interest for this case.

Richard met Samantha Smith online in October 2019, on the dating website Silver Singles. Samantha was a Gemologist who had a degree in the same from the University of New Zealand. She was currently living in Istanbul, Turkey, where she was working on a project related to mining precious stones, but her permanent residence was Norfolk, Virginia.

They began talking regularly through text message and email. She sent photos of herself to Richard via email, and he received a video of her describing her project in Istanbul. Samantha had an attorney named Sousa Darius, who began calling him on the phone several times a week. To validate his identiy, Sousa Darius sent Richard a copy of his Turkish passport.

Samantha had claimed that her project was a success and that tshe had been able to mine a quantity of Tanzanite stones. In order to sell them, however, she had to receive a certificate of completion from the Turkish government, and later had to pay taxes on the stones, prior to selling them.

Richard had to go to an M&T Bank branch near his home to arrange for wire transfers, which he refused to do until he had a notarized contract from Sousa, proving he would get the money back.

In the contract, Richard commits to transfer 22,000 Euros to a bank account designated by Samantha Smith, and that in return, he would receive 8% of the gross funds, or 144,000 Euros from the "Project Bank Account."

Richard produced bank statements that showed he had wired $25,000 (the equivalent at that time to 22,000 Euros) to "Delores R. Shawhan" based on the instructions he received from Attorney Sousa. Richard also transfered $26,624.37 from his pension account at Chase Bank to himself to cover that wire.

A second contract was for Richard to send Samantha $40,000, for which he would receive 1.5% of the gem sales, or 270,000 Euros (from the supposed sale of 1.8 Million Euros for the Tanzanite.) This $40,000 was also sent to Delores R. Shawhan. (Richard transferred himself another $41,514.37 from his Chase Bank retirement account to cover that wire.)

A third request came, promising him he would receive 455,000 Euros from the "total contract sum" if he would send $100,000. He did the wires, again to Delores R. Shawhan, and again moved funds from his Chase Pension account (this time $127,738.) Part of these funds, $30,000, were sent via wire to Baines Properties.

At one point, Attorney Sousa informed Richard that Samantha was imprisoned, and needed additional funds, again. When Richard pushed back, Sousa drew up a Power of Attorney and promised Richard that he would be given the ability to draw funds to repay himself directly from a Trust Fund that Samantha Smith's father had set up for her at Europa Off Shore Bank.

To cover these additional payments, Attorney Sousa modified their contract so that it now promised 9 40,000 Euros from the "total contract sum" if he would pay $166,000. [this analyst's understanding is that the $166,000 was cumulative, including previous payments sent.] Which he did. He sent an international wire transfer for $33,000 to "Charles Globe Teskitil Tecaret Sirketi Limited" which was who Attorney Sousa told him to send the funds to.

Later he received documents from Europa Off Shore Bank via email proving that the funds were really available and providing him a PIN that he could use to confirm this himself. When he logged in to the Europa Off Shore Bank, he could see that more than $9 million were in the balance of the account but there wasn't a way that he could find to transfer any of the funds to himself.

When he contacted Europa Off Shore Bank's Customer Support via email, he was told that he could not withdraw the funds because there were fees that had to be paid first. Dormant Account Fees totaling $88,950, Reactivation Fees totaling $52,000, and a Tracking Code fee of $45.

To help cover these fees, he sent a cashier's check in the amount of $42,500 which the Europa Off Shore Bank had agreed would be enough to allow them to open the account. After receiving the check, Europa Off Shore Bank informed him that there were still issues which must be resolved in person, and that he needed to fly to Amsterdam to do so.

To wrap up Richard's testimony ... he made six payments, totaling $205,500, which he says he would not have made had he known the gem mining project did not exist and that there was no Europa Off Shore Bank.

(The next witness is a Financial Crimes Examiner, Thomas Michael Trusty, from JP Morgan Chase ... who testifies about deposits being made to Mr. Lawal's account that he was asked by Bank of America to review)

Frank from California

This story may sound rather familiar. Frank is a 75-year old man from California. He and his wife separated after 33 years in 2017. In 2020, Frank made a profile on Silver Singles and was approached by a woman who wanted to develop a relationship with him. Samantha Hope Smith was a gemologist from New Zealand. Her moniker on the site was "Pretty Gorgeous" and they met on the platform in March 2020, but she quickly asked to move their conversation off the dating website. She claimed that unseemly individuals were contacting her on Silver Singles and that she was canceling her subscription but wanted to stay in touch with him.

Samantha was from New Zealand. In one of her first emails she explains:

"I have a mixed upbringing, my papa is from Florida, and my mom is from New Zealand. I was born in Florida. In my teen years, we lived in New Zealand. We lived in the best side of town, a nice house in Wellington by the lake. I grew up with mountains, creeks, hills, and basically nature at its finest."

She would later send a copy of her Florida drivers license to Frank.

For 16 days, from March 8, 2020 until March 24, 2020, they had "long very emotional sort of conversations telling each other about ourselves, trying to find common ground, and many of the emails were very, very lengthy." He was romantically interested in her.

Frank says that Samantha was in Istanbul, Turkey where she was mining Zultanite. But it turns out, she needed a Zultanite gemstone certificate from the Turkish government, and they were expensive. It was going to cost $316,500 to process the certificate.

About the same time, Samantha decided to fly to Reno and sent her itinerary to Frank. He was supposed to meet her there at the airport.

Turns out Samantha the Zultanite miner had something else in common with Samantha the Tanzanite miner. She had an online bank account that she wanted Frank to access for her. "AffinityAllied[.]com" with the account number 1867364926. She had $2 million in the account and needed Frank to send her $300,000 from that account to help cover the Gem Certificate.

There were other asks for funds as well. The court read into evidence this email from Samantha to Frank:

"Good morning, Frank. I had a restless night. I wish you were around to make me feel much better. I appreciate your concerns and your suggestions yesterday towards me, and I can't wait to be back home and get to know more about you. Loan or no loan, I still want to meet and be with you. I understand you not being comfortable in loaning me over $16,000 when you haven't met personally, I may not feel the same way too, but I think I would help if I were to be in your shoes. I want you to know that this project means a lot to me, as I have invested so much of my money and time. I am almost done before this happened. I did plan for extra expenses, I have to utilize the money I was meant to use to pay for the fee in the past, due to extra expenses, that is why I asked you to help me transfer money from my account, again thanks for helping me out. I still have about 5,000 in my balance as you know."

He decided to send her the money. He received "very specific instructions" to send the money to Samantha's relative who had an account at Huntington National Bank in the name "Luxe Logistics Transportation LLC."

He wired the money from his Charles Schwab account. Before the transfer was made an employee of Charles Schwab called him and "her last words to me," Frank says, were "are you sure you know these people do you really want to send this in that there are a lot of fraudulent schemes out there." Frank says the second he got off the phone with the Schwab agent, he was on the Internet looking for Luxe Logistics and he found them in Los Angeles.

About this time, Frank received an email from Samantha informing him that she had her Zultanite professionally appraised and that it was valued at $17,650,000.

But Frank had already determined that Luxe Logistics was a fraud and he cut off communications. He made five phone calls to Charles Schwab that same night and was able to get the wire stopped.

(Stay tuned for Part Four! We still have two more days of testimony to review! )

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