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Ghanaian celebrity pleads guilty to romance scam in US

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Ghanaian influencer, Mona Faiz Montrage popularly known as Hajia 4Real has pleaded guilty to laundering the proceeds of a series of romance scams in the United States of America.

U.S Department of Justice said she pleaded guilty on Wednesday, February 21, to conspiracy to receive stolen money before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah L. Cave.

The Indictment and statements made in public filings and public court proceedings revealed that from 2013 to 2019, Montrage was a member of a criminal enterprise (the “Enterprise”) based in West Africa that committed a series of frauds against individuals and businesses in the U.S., including romance scams.

Many of the Enterprise’s romance scam victims were vulnerable, older men and women who lived alone.

The Enterprise frequently conducted romance scams by sending the victims emails, text messages, and social media messages that deceived the victims into believing that they were in romantic relationships with a person who was, in fact, a fake identity assumed by members of the Enterprise.

Once members of the Enterprise had successfully convinced victims that they were in a romantic relationship and had gained their trust, they convinced the victims, under false pretences, to transfer money to bank accounts the victims believed were controlled by their romantic interests, when, in fact, the bank accounts were controlled by members of the Enterprise.

It was also noted that Montrage is a Ghanaian public figure who rose to fame as an influencer through her Instagram profile under the username “Hajia4Real,” which at one point had approximately 3.4 million Instagram followers and was among the top profiles with the most followers in Ghana.

She received money from several victims of romance frauds who members of the Enterprise tricked into sending money.

Among the false pretenses used to induce victims to send money to Montrage were payments to transport gold to the U.S. from overseas payments to resolve a fake FBI investigation, and payments to assist a fake U.S. Army officer in receiving funds from Afghanistan.

In total, MONTRAGE controlled bank accounts that received over $2 million in fraudulent funds from the Enterprise.

The 31-year-old socialite pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to receive stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Montrage also agreed to pay forfeiture in the amount of $2,164,758.41 and make restitution in the same amount. She is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty.

The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Commenting on the case, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said, “Mona Faiz Montrage knowingly received money stolen from older Americans through romance scams and was arrested abroad and now faces serious consequences for her actions. Romance scams such as Montrage’s harmed her vulnerable, elderly victims not only in the cruel betrayal of trust in the realization that their online romantic connection was fiction, but by also callously stealing their money. This Office and our law enforcement partners are relentless in bringing fraudsters who target Americans to justice, no matter where they are”.

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