Judge sentences St. Louis man for role in romance scheme targeting elderly community
ST. LOUIS, MO – United States District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig sentenced Hammed Akande to 63 months in prison. Akande, a 30-year-old resident of St. Louis, Missouri, pleaded guilty in March to a conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud relative to his role in a romance scam targeting 24 people.
According to court documents, in 2017, Akande began serving as a “money mule” in a romance scam that targeted 24 elderly residents of Missouri and a number of other states. “Romance Scams” are schemes in which fraudsters pretend to be in a romantic relationship with their victims in order to obtain money and merchandise as well as to induce the victims to conduct financial transactions on the fraudsters’ behalf. Because the victims are targeted through online dating sites and social media, the fraudsters are able to hide their identities by using the names and photographs of others and explaining their inability to meet or use video messaging services by claiming to be working abroad or in the military.
As a money mule, Akande’s role was to receive mailings containing money and electronic devices sent from the romance scam victims to residential addresses he controlled in the Saint Louis, Misouri metropolitan area. Akande then forwarded a portion of the funds and merchandise he received to other members of the romance scam conspiracy who resided within the United States and abroad through the mails as well as through the electronic transfer of funds.
Akande also played a significant role in the scheme because he used his skill with the English language to proofread messages that his Nigerian co-conspirators were sending to the victims living in the United States. This skill placed the victims at ease, and furthered their misbelief that they were in a romantic relationship with United States citizens.
Each of the victims were over the age of 60. Of the 24 victims, three reported experiencing substantial financial hardship because of the funds that they sent to the fraudsters, and four of them had aggregate losses in the amount of $574,123.45.
During the period of the scheme, Akande learned of a criminal investigation being conducted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Akande relayed the information concerning the investigation to at least one of his co-conspirators, who immediately contacted a victim to tell that person not to speak with the law enforcement official Akande identified.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Berry is handling the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The Department of Justice Elder Justice Initiative is dedicated to investigating and prosecuting financial crimes targeting older adults. The Eastern District of Missouri Identity Theft Task Force is a group of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies working together to combat identity theft and its related crimes across the St. Louis Community.