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  • WisBar News
    June 10, 2016

    No Love for Skillful Fraudster Who Preyed on Elderly through Romance Scams

    Joe Forward

    Scam alert

    June 10, 2016 – The U.S Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently rejected the appeal of a woman convicted and sentenced for defrauding numerous victims with fake profiles on dating websites, a scheme that resulted in $2.2 million in identifiable losses.

    Sally Iriri and her accomplices created fake profiles on Internet dating websites, targeting older and elderly people in the U.S. and Canada.

    Through website communications, they developed fake close relationships with the targets and expressed fake romantic feelings towards them.

    Eventually, of course, Iriri persuaded the victims to wire money to help with personal tragedies or to invest in money-making opportunities. A total of 21 victims were identified, and Iriri successfully defrauded them of $2.2 million over two years.

    The victims ranged in age from 47 to 71. Some of them provided victim impact statements, noting the emotional and financial toll they have endured because of Iriri’s fraud. One tried to commit suicide. One lost his entire retirement.

    U.S. District Judge James Peterson, of the Western District of Wisconsin, ultimately sentenced Iriri to 10 years in prison, in addition to supervised conditions of release and restitution. The prison sentence was 23 months above the sentencing guidelines’ range of 78 to 97 months, but judges have discretion to depart from the guidelines.

    Peterson determined the range by making a two-level “vulnerable victim enhancement,” which is appropriate if the victim is “unusually vulnerable due to age, physical or mental condition, or … is otherwise particularly susceptible to criminal conduct.” Thus, the judge increased the range through the enhancement and then added 23 months.

    Joe ForwardJoe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.

    On appeal, Iriri challenged the vulnerable victim enhancement, arguing that her victims were not “unusually vulnerable.” But in U.S. v. Iriri, No. 15-3692 (June 9, 2016), a three-judge panel for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court decision.

    The panel agreed that many of Iriri’s victims were unusually vulnerable. “Age, lack of sophistication, and personal loss (one was a widow and another had lost his entire family) on the part of victims, coupled with the defendant’s skillful employment of electronic media, rendered her targets helpless,” wrote Judge Richard Posner.

    Judge Posner noted that judges may depart from guideline ranges but must consider certain sentencing factors, including whether the sentence will deter criminal conduct.

    In addition, the panel noted that sentencing should protect the public from further crimes by the same defendant. “That is of particular importance in the case of crimes of fraud, because perpetrators of fraud do not age out of criminal activity the way violent criminals, such as members of drug gangs, are apt to do,” Judge Posner wrote.

    “Ten years from now the defendant will be no less capable of fraudulent scheming than she was when she committed the crimes for which she has been sentenced,” he wrote,

    Judge Posner noted that the sentence is still appropriate, even though Iriri is not an American citizen and is likely to be deported to her home country of Nigeria.

    The district judge had noted that it may be harder to scam people from outside the U.S., but she will still have the same skills “to do the same thing from Nigeria.”

    Posner agreed. “[D]eportation may not prevent her from continuing to prey on Americans,” he wrote. And Posner also agreed with the district judge that an upward departure was appropriate, considering the emotional and financial harm to the victims.

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