Cumberland County Man Admits Conspiring to Commit Wire Fraud, Money Laundering, and Tax Evasion in Connection with Romance Fraud Scheme
CAMDEN, N.J. – A Cumberland County, New Jersey, man today admitted to conspiring to commit wire and money laundering, and tax evasion, in connection with a romance fraud scheme, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced.
Rubbin Sarpong, 37, of Millville, New Jersey, 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.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
From January 2016 to Sept. 3, 2019, Sarpong and his conspirators, several of whom reside in Ghana, allegedly participated in an online romance scheme, defrauding victims in New Jersey and elsewhere. Sarpong and the conspirators set up dating profiles on various dating 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.
The conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering charges to which Sarpong pleaded guilty each carry a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the offense, whichever is greatest. The tax evasion charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. As part of the plea agreement, Sarpong agreed to make restitution for the full amount of the loss, which is estimated at $1.76 million, as well as to pay $387,923 in taxes owed to the IRS. In addition, Sarpong agreed to make full restitution to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State of New Jersey for all monies paid in Medicaid and SNAP benefits for Sarpong and his children from September 2018 through August 2019. Sentencing is scheduled for March 21, 2022.
Acting U.S. Attorney Honig credited special agents of the FBI, Atlantic City Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. in Newark; special agents of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jason J. Molina in Newark; and special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael Montanez in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Diana Vondra Carrig of the U.S Attorney’s Office in Camden.