CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Suleman Alhassan, 38, a Ghanaian national residing in Charlotte, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. to 51 months in prison and one year of supervised release for his involvement in financial scams targeting older adults, announced Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. In addition to the prison term imposed, Judge Cogburn ordered Alhassan to pay $1,127,989 as restitution, and to be deported upon completion of his prison term.
Tommy D. Coke, Inspector in Charge of the Atlanta Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), which oversees Charlotte, and Ronnie Martinez, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Charlotte, join U.S. Attorney Murray in making today’s announcement.
“Alhassan preyed upon older victims by exploiting their vulnerabilities, including their human need for a personal connection and a loving relationship. Some of the victims were exploited repeatedly, until their well ran dry and they had no more money to give,” said U.S. Attorney Murray. “Investigating and prosecuting the full range of criminal activities that exploit America’s seniors is a priority for my office. It’s equally important that all of us look out for our elderly family and friends who may be targeted by scammers, as a watchful eye can make all the difference in keeping our loved ones safe, and preventing their financial and emotional devastation.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service takes great pride in protecting the American public, especially our vulnerable older Americans. Those seeking to defraud and take advantage of our postal customers should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable,” said Inspector-in-Charge Coke.
“This case makes clear that transnational scammers who believe they can avoid accountability for their crimes are mistaken,” said Special Agent in Charge Martinez. “HSI is committed to using its unique, cross-border investigative authorities to hold persons accountable who defraud senior citizens and other vulnerable persons. We’re appreciative of our partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to successfully prosecute this case, and will continue to work with our federal, state and local partners to identify and stop financial crimes targeting vulnerable populations.”
According to filed documents and today’s sentencing hearing, beginning in or about March 2016, Alhassan conspired with other individuals in the United States and in Ghana to execute romance and precious metals scams that defrauded more than 20 older victims of over $1 million. According to court records, Alhassan and his co-conspirators operated the romance scheme by creating fake profiles and using fake identities on internet dating websites and other methods to target potential fraud victims, who were frequently elderly, with false promises of a romantic relationship.
According to court records, as part of the scheme, and in addition to developing fake romantic relationships with the victims, Alhassan and others falsely claimed to own large quantities of gold located in Ghana. The victims were induced to send money to Alhassan and others, purportedly to pay for expenses to ship the gold from Ghana to the United States and other countries, where it could be sold. As Alhassan previously admitted in court documents, he and his co-conspirators falsely told the victims that they would receive a share of the profits when the gold was brought and sold in the United States.
According to court records, Alhassan and his co-conspirators further induced victims to send funds under the guise of securing travel documents for the person with whom the victims believed to be in a romantic relationship. To convince victims to continue to send money, Alhassan and his co-conspirators invented fictitious obstacles, including problems with travel visas and customs related issues. The co-conspirators continued to call, text, and e-mail the victims and insist that more money was needed. Alhassan and his co-conspirators employed these tactics until the victims either ran out of money or discovered the fraudulent nature of the scheme.
Court records show that, in August 2017, Alhassan was stopped at the Charlotte airport with more than $130,000 in proceeds derived from the fraud. Alhassan continued to be involved in the scams even after law enforcement seized the funds, until he was arrested and charged federally for his role in the fraudulent scheme.
Alhassan is currently detained and will be transferred to the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility.
In making today’s announcement, U.S. Attorney Murray commended the USPIS and HSI for their investigation of this case.
Assistant United States Attorney Jenny G. Sugar, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, prosecuted the case.
In March 2019, Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, announced the Office’s Elder Justice Initiative, which aims to combat elder financial exploitation by expanding efforts to investigate and prosecute financial scams that target seniors; educate older adults on how to identify scams and avoid becoming victims of financial fraud; and promote greater coordination with law enforcement partners. For more information please visit: https://edit.justice.gov/usao-wdnc/elder-justice-initiative