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OAN’s Geraldyn Berry
3:50 PM – Friday, July 28, 2023
A 36-year-old woman from Champions Gate, Florida, has been sentenced to four years in prison for masterminding a romantic scam that targeted an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor out of nearly $3 million.
During the sentencing on Thursday, Manhattan federal Judge Edgardo Ramos, characterized Peaches Stergo as “unspeakably cruel” while pointing out that the 36-year-old had been motivated by “greed.”
Stergo pleaded guilty to wire fraud after deceiving the elderly victim with a web of romantic lies, tricking him into believing she was genuinely interested in him. Referring to her heinous scheme as her “business.” Stergo joked with her real boyfriend about her successful con after the victim expressed his love for her.
The fraudulent activity began several years ago when Stergo met the victim on a dating website. She started borrowing money from him under the pretense of paying an attorney to release funds from a non-existent injury settlement. Despite no settlement funds ever being deposited into her account, Stergo relentlessly demanded more money from the elderly victim, writing a total of 62 checks amounting to over $2.8 million.
To further manipulate the victim, Stergo impersonated a TD Bank employee and created fake invoices from the bank. She even traveled to New York to visit the victim at his Manhattan apartment, using a false identity as “Alice,” a Florida nanny. Concealing her real relationship and children, Stergo exploited the elderly man’s cognitive decline to continue her scam.
Over the course of the fraud, Stergo lavishly spent the stolen money on luxury items such as designer clothes from high-end stores like Louis Vuitton and Hermes, a boat, and multiple cars, including a Corvette and Suburban. She also indulged in luxurious vacations at places like the Ritz-Carlton. As the victim’s funds dried up, he lost his life savings and his apartment, falling victim to the heartless deception.
Prosecutors said that after the man ran out of money, Stergo urged him to sell off assets and borrow money to continue the cash flow.
The elderly victim, whose identity remains confidential, suffers from cognitive decline. It was revealed that he had moved to the United States during his early 20’s after he suffered immeasurable trauma and losing his parents at the age of six.
“As a Holocaust survivor, I have endured unspeakable pain and loss in my life, but never did I imagine that I would be subjected to such a heartless betrayal in my old age,” the unidentified victim said.
Stergo’s lawyer, Ann Marie Fitz, defended her client, describing her as a partner to her longtime boyfriend, a born-again Christian and a devoted mother to two teenage boys. Fitz argued that Stergo had a genuine and caring relationship with the victim, celebrating holidays together and providing care when he was unwell.
Furthermore, Stergo’s lawyer cited childhood trauma as a potential cause for her client’s compulsive behaviors and participation in scams.
“She is not the cold-hearted person the government and media have made her out to be,” the lawyer wrote. “There was a genuine, caring relationship that Ms. Stergo had with the victim in this case — she spent holidays with him, she took care of him when he was ill and, as the victim’s cousin described, she was ‘doting’ on him.”
United States Attorney Damian Williams condemned Stergo’s fraudulent activity.
“Peaches Stergo callously defrauded an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor who was simply looking for companionship,” Williams said. “But she did not get away with it. As today’s sentence demonstrates, perpetrators of romance scams will be held to account for their crimes.”
During her defense, Stergo’s attorneys claimed that she did not target the man because he was in the Holocaust.
In addition to the prison time, the scam artist also agreed to pay $2,830,775 in restitution and claimed she will forfeit the various luxury items that she purchased with the stolen money.
According to the consumer group Comparitech, in 2022 roughly 73,000 Americans were scammed out of $1 billion through online dating.
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