RICHMOND, Va. – A Leonardtown, Maryland man pleaded guilty today to mail fraud in connection with an online dating site romance scam.
“Through his use of fictitious personas, the defendant’s fraudulent scheme preyed on members of our community who thought they were helping a service member with significant financial needs,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “As this case demonstrates, we will continue to hold accountable those who use online forums to defraud victims.”
According to court documents, beginning in December 2014 and continuing through at least January 2018, Eugene Johnson Jr., 39, used online dating sites to establish romantic connections with various women. In these communications, Johnson used aliases and made other false claims about his identity, frequently describing himself as a U.S. Marine with a son whose mother had died. When purporting to establish a romantic relationship with his victims, Johnson claimed that he wanted to marry each victim, buy a house with her, and raise his son and any children they might have together.
Shortly thereafter, Johnson would ask the victims to send him money for various pressing financial needs. Although his claims varied, they generally involved some form of car, financial, legal, or health problems about which Johnson claimed to be very emotional. To bolster these claims, Johnson sent the victims text messages from different phone numbers in which he posed as individuals who could corroborate his prior claims. Johnson also falsely promised to repay the victims from income sources that he did not actually possess.
When victims agreed to send him money, Johnson directed them to do so via interstate wire transfers and bulk cash shipments. Thereafter, Johnson continued to ask the same victims for more money to meet other claimed needs until the victims exhausted their own resources, refused, or questioned the truth of his claims. In total, Johnson obtained at least $276,361 from at least eight women residing in three different states. Contrary to his claims and promises, Johnson used the victims’ money to pay personal debts and expenses and never repaid any of the victims.
Johnson is scheduled to be sentenced on September 17. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Stanley M. Meador, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Field Office, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson accepted the plea.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Heather H. Mansfield and Kaitlin G. Cooke are prosecuting the case.