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Press Release

Three Individuals Admit Tax Evasion and Other Charges after Defrauding More Than 100 Victims of Over $4.5 Million Dollars in Romance Fraud Scheme

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey

CAMDEN, N.J. – A husband and wife, formerly of Burlington County, New Jersey, and a third codefendant have pleaded guilty to tax evasion and other charges related to their roles in accepting millions of dollars in a romance fraud, after their conspirators met and wooed the victims on online dating sites, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.

Martins Friday Inalegwu, 35, formerly of Maple Shade, New Jersey, pleaded guilty today to an information charging him with one count of conducting an unlawful money transmitting business and four counts of tax evasion. Inalegwu’s wife, Steincy Mathieu, 27, also formerly of Maple Shade, pleaded guilty on Nov. 28, 2023, to two counts of an indictment charging her with tax evasion. Oluwaseyi Fatolu, 56, of Springfield, New Jersey, pleaded guilty on Jan. 8, 2024, to a count of the indictment charging her with operating an unlawful money transmitting business. All three defendants pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Christine P. O’Hearn in Camden federal court.

“These defendants took advantage of more than 100 vulnerable victims, preying on their loneliness to convince them to send money to scammers the victims believed were romantic partners. In this way, they stole millions of dollars. This conspiracy involved swindling, illegal money transfers and tax evasion. Our office will always be ready to work with our law enforcement partners to root out these schemes and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger

“All fraud schemes hurt victims who end up losing part or all of their hard-earned fortunes, savings or retirements,” FBI – Newark Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy said. “However, romance scams take on an insidious level of harm. Few of us would want to admit we fell for this type of scam, but we’re all human and scammers prey on that fact. The subjects are owning up to their crimes, but it may not provide much solace for the victims left broke and heartbroken.”

“Martins Inalegwu and his co-conspirators face serious justice for stealing hard-earned money from more than 100 victims who were unaware their relationship was part of a financial fraud or romance scam,” HSI Newark acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Alfonso said. “As always, we urge the public to remain cautious when communicating online, know the tips to recognize a scam and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement. HSI Newark, along with our law enforcement partners, remains committed to dismantling criminal networks attempting to operate financial fraud schemes.”

“Romance scams can prove costly in terms of money, but they also cause great emotional harm to victims and their families,” Tammy Tomlins, Special Agent in Charge of IRS – Criminal Investigation, Newark Field Office, said. “The defendants cheated honest taxpayers out of millions and cheated the United States government by evading their tax liability. Today’s guilty plea demonstrates how IRS – Criminal Investigation special agents and our law enforcement partners continue to use our financial expertise to identify and investigate these types of schemes.”

“Romance scams frequently target elderly or vulnerable citizens and are particularly egregious crimes,” Postal Inspector in Charge, Christopher A. Nielsen, Philadelphia Division, said. “Let this investigation put fraudsters on notice that with our law enforcement partners, the Postal Inspection Service  will investigate and pursue those individuals who scam, harass, and steal from the American people.” 

According to the documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

From October 2016 to May 13, 2020, Inalegwu, Mathieu and their conspirators, several of whom reside in Nigeria, participated in an online romance scheme, defrauding more than 100 victims throughout the country. The conspirators made initial contact with victims through on-line dating and social media websites, corresponded with victims via email and phone, pretended to strike up a romantic relationship with victims, wooed them with words of love, and then requested the victims send money to them, or their associates, for fictitious emergency needs. In all instances, the individuals whom the victims believed they were speaking to did not exist, and instead they were speaking to the conspirators of this scheme.  

At the conspirators’ directions, victims wired money to bank accounts held by Inalegwu and Mathieu in the United States, and also mailed checks directly to Inalegwu and Mathieu. Some victims transferred money to Inalegwu and Mathieu via money transfer services, such as Western Union or MoneyGram, and others wired money to bank accounts held by conspirators overseas.

Federal law enforcement agents have identified more than 100 victims, who sent over $4.5 million directly to Inalegwu and Mathieu, and several million more to conspirators. In turn, Inalegwu and Mathieu spent the victims’ money on personal expenses, withdrew money in cash, transferred money to other bank accounts they personally controlled, and transferred money to bank accounts in Nigeria and Turkey. Inalegwu used the unlawful money transmitting service provided by Fatolu to unlawfully transfer a portion of the victim money to these foreign accounts. Inalegwu and Mathieu failed to pay any taxes on the millions of dollars they accepted from victims.

Each count of tax evasion is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Each count of conducting an unlawful money transmitting business is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. Attorney Philip R Sellinger credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy in Newark; special agents of Homeland Security Investigations Newark, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Alfonso; special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Tammy Tomlins; postal inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service under the direction of Inspector in Charge Christopher A. Nielsen, Philadelphia Division; and special agents of the United States Attorney’s Office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Thomas Mahoney, with the investigation leading to the guilty pleas.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Martha K. Nye of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Trenton.


Updated March 25, 2024

Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: 24-108