ST. LOUIS – U.S. District Judge Sarah E, Pitlyk on Thursday sentenced a woman from Ohio who lied to U.S. Postal Inspectors to conceal her involvement with romance scammers to two years in prison.
On April 29, 2020, U.S. Postal Inspectors found $50,000 that had fallen from an Express Mail package sent by Linda Matson, now 62, of Xenia, Ohio to a post office box being used in a romance fraud scheme. They later found a second package containing the same amount.
The inspectors reached out to Matson, who acknowledged that she had been scammed by someone claiming to be a lieutenant general in the U.S. Army. On May 10, 2020, three days after admitting she had been duped in that romance scam, Matson began inducing her relatives to send her money on behalf of her fictitious military officer. In an effort to conceal her continued involvement in the romance fraud scam and to expedite the return of the seized funds, on May 18, 2020 she sent multiple text messages to a postal inspector falsely claiming that she needed the money to buy posters and T-shirts to help find her missing 18-year-old niece. Matson also sent links to news articles and Facebook stories about a missing Ohio teenager to deceive the inspector into acting quickly.
Believing Matson’s statements to be true, between June 1, 2020 and August 3, 2020 relatives gave Matson $590,000 that was to be used to help the fictitious military officer obtain an imaginary portfolio containing cash and diamonds valued at $20,000,000. Instead of providing the funds to the United States Customs Service as she promised, Matson mailed the money to post office boxes controlled by the romance scammers.
Matson pleaded guilty in August to a charge of making false statements to a federal agent and admitted she intended to use the money for reasons she was concealing from the postal inspector. She also admitted lying to the inspector and the FBI.
In a related case, Bonmene Sibe and Ovuoke Frank Ofikoro pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit a mail fraud and wire fraud scheme that used the same false claims about military officers to deceive women into mailing $844,070 to post office boxes in St. Louis. Judge Pitlyk sentenced Sibe, 43, to five years and three months in prison in May and Ofikoro, 43, to four years and two months in prison in June. Both men were also ordered to repay their victims.
The U.S. Postal Inspection service and the FBI investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Berry is prosecuting the case.