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April 14, 2023

Former South Jersey couple indicted in $4.5 million online dating scheme

More than 100 people allegedly were scammed out of money after they developed romantic relationships with fake internet personas

Investigations Fraud
Indictment Online Romance Bill Oxford/Unsplash

Martins Inalegwu, 34, and Steincy Mathieu, 26, – a couple that once lived in Burlington County, New Jersey – allegedly created fake internet personas to forge romantic relationships with people who would send them money for fake emergencies, federal prosecutors say.

A Philadelphia man and his wife, who now lives in New York City, have been indicted for their alleged roles in an internet dating scheme that defrauded more than 100 people of a combined $4.5 million, U.S. Attorney Phillip R. Sellinger said.

Martins Inalegwu, 34, of Philadelphia and Steincy Mathieu, 26, of Brooklyn, allegedly created false stories on dating sites and social media platforms to form online relationships with people across the United States from 2016 until 2020, according to the 47-page indictment. They then allegedly asked the people to send them money for fictitious emergency needs.

The couple, who formerly lived in Burlington County, New Jersey, allegedly were joined in the scheme by Moses Chukwuebuka Alexander, of Nigeria. 

Inalegwu, Mathieu and Alexander also allegedly engaged in apartment rental scams by advertising properties they did not own to collect money for fraudulent application fees and security deposits. In most cases, the group allegedly spoke with apartment seekers over the phone or through email before requesting the funds. 

The trio, who allegedly worked with other conspirators not named in the indictment, is accused of using various phone numbers and email addresses to instruct people where to wire money. Prosecutors allege money was wired directly to Inalegwu and Mathieu. In some cases, personal checks allegedly were mailed to them.

A fourth defendant, Oluwaseyi Fatulo of Springfield, New Jersey, is facing charges for allegedly helping the others transfer money between U.S. and foreign bank accounts in exchange for a fee.

With the $4.5 million, Inalegwu and Mathieu allegedly paid for personal expenses, took out cash withdrawals and transferred money to bank accounts owned by themselves, Alexander or other conspirators in Nigeria and Turkey.

The couple allegedly maintained up to 38 accounts at 11 banks and 10 money service business accounts with eight money service businesses, according to the indictment. Most of the accounts allegedly were used to collect money or transfer money out of the country, but others were licensed to companies with no history of business transactions. 

Inalegwu, Mathieu and Alexander were charged with mail and wire fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and other related charges. Fatulo was charged with conducting an unlawful money transmitting business and arraigned Wednesday. 

Inalegwu and Mathieu will be arraigned April 20. Alexander is considered a fugitive and remains at large. 

Some of the charges included in the indictment are punishable by up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office