ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – A St. Louis woman appeared in federal court Wednesday to admit her role in a romance scam that ultimately cost victims more than a half-million dollars.
Last September, three St. Louis-area residents with ties to Nigeria were indicted in an overseas scheme that targeted dozens of women across the United States. The suspects were identified as Ovuoke Frank Ofikoro, Bonmene Sibe, and Trenice Hassel.
Hassel pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to a federal agency.
According to prosecutors, the suspects claimed they were deployed overseas and used aliases and pictures stolen from online sources.
Investigators said the trio actively searched dating sites and chat rooms looking for lonely victims to exploit. They allegedly enticed women between the ages of 45 and 82 to send them money and electronic equipment to St. Louis-area post office boxes.
On April 8, 2020, inspectors with the US Postal Service were notified of a possible “romance scam” involving a P.O. box in Berkeley, Missouri. Hassel had opened the P.O. box using someone else’s name and ID number.
Hassel admitted in court that one of the co-defendants offered her $100 if she could find someone who would open a post office box for him in that person’s name. In January 2020, Hassel went to the Berkeley post office with another person and applied for a P.O. box., claiming it would be used for that individual’s residential and personal use.
However, the co-defendant ended up using the P.O. box as part of the scam. Between January and June of 2020, the co-defendant collected or attempted to collect money from victims, who believed they were sending money to someone who was employed as either a diplomat’s secretary or as a realtor.
Over the course of the investigation, authorities learned the scam had been running since 2019.
Federal authorities said some of the money they stole was sent to Nigeria while other money was confiscated in the St. Louis area.