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9 September 2014, 07:40
Two men - including one from Berkshire - have been found guilty of money laundering over a dating website scam which targeted single women looking for love online.
The victims were duped after they responded to a false profile of an "attractive middle-aged man'' on the match.com website.
They fell for the conman's story that he was due to receive a £100 million inheritance from his father but that it was tied up by red tape in India.
Once the relationship had developed with the fake man, normally called James Richards, the conspirators started requesting cash.
At first the women were asked for a £700 legal fee by a fake solicitor but then the sums requested rose to up to £100,000, Winchester Crown Court heard.
The trial was told that vulnerable women were conned out of £220,000, with one victim, Suzanne Hardman, handing over #174,000. Some realised it was a scam and did not pay any cash.
Following the three-week trial, Monty Emu, 28, of Frencham Road, Southsea, Hampshire, and Adewunmi Nusi, 27, of Bomford Close, Hermitage, Berkshire, were convicted of money laundering.
Brooke Boston, 28, of Chelsea Road, Southsea, was cleared of charges of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.
On the first day of the trial, Emmanuel Oko, 29, of Waverley Grove, Southsea, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and money laundering and Chukwuka Ugwu, 28, of Somers Road, Southsea, admitted money laundering.
A sixth person, Eberechi Ekpo, 26, of Adair Road, Southsea, was cleared of money laundering and fraud by false representation part-way through the trial.
Simon Edwards, prosecuting, told jurors that messages of love and "overblown affection'' were sent to the victims through the match.com website before moving on to emails and text messages.
Examples of the messages sent to multiple recipients included: "You make me feel loved, you make me feel safe, most importantly you make me feel wanted.
"I knew our friendship would grow from the first day we spoke but neither one of us could imagine the love exploding, no thundering into our hearts.''
Another read: "Honey, seriously I love you because I have never been loved by anyone like you loved me.
"I feel like a complete man. The thought of your hands on my body, particularly when you hold me when I am sleeping.
"I love your generous kindness to me. I love your eye and lips, your sense of self-love. I want to be with you now.''
Ms Hardman, from Basingstoke, sobbed as she told the court how she was duped by "James Richards'' who told her his mother had also died recently.
She said: "He was very sociable, we got on, like a friendship. I learnt a bit about his background, I told him a bit about mine.''
She said that after they had been communicating for about 11 months, "James Richards'' told her that his dead father had a frozen account in India with #1.5 million in it.
He also told her that he intended to sell a number of properties owned by his father.
All four face sentencing on the week of October 13.
Following the case, prosecutors said they will now be pursuing those convicted to strip them of their ill-gotten gains.
Detective Constable Darrin Carey, of Hampshire Constabulary, said: "This case centres around a web of lies constructed by a devious group of people with the sole intention of exploiting emotionally vulnerable women for financial gain.
"All members of this group played their part in these offences, which left nine women feeling used and embarrassed and has seen them lose significant amounts of money.
"The women were duped into thinking that they were talking to a man who was genuinely looking for love on the dating website match.com. Unfortunately for them, they were part of an elaborate scam.
"These verdicts should send out a clear message to people who think they can hide behind fake profiles and carry out these scams again and again, that they will be caught and dealt with by the courts.
"I would like to thank the women involved in this case for their courage in coming forward to report this and also for going through the distressing experience of giving evidence about a very personal subject.''
Simon Edwards, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "We hope that with these convictions the victims in this case who lost a considerable amount of money and, understandably, could have lost confidence in themselves, will be able to move on with their lives now that the offenders have been brought before the court.
"We will now apply to the court for the ill-gotten assets to be confiscated.''
In a statement, match.com said: "These verdicts show that scammers do get caught, though that's no consolation for those they exploited.
"Unfortunately, there is a tiny minority of people out there who want to exploit others over the internet. We advise people to use the same common sense as they would if they were meeting someone in a bar or a pub. We give lots of safe-dating advice on our site and in emails to members. This makes it clear that you should never send money to anyone you meet online.''