Holocaust Survivor Swindled Out of $2.8 Million in "Romance Scam" to Woman He Met on Dating Site, Feds Say
“The Victim lost his life savings and was forced to give up his apartment.”
An 87-year-old Holocaust survivor was scammed out of $2.8 million by a woman he thought he was in a relationship with. According to an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court, Peaches Stergo, 36, from Champions Gate, Florida, was arrested for a four-year-long romance scam where she repeatedly lied and forged documents to defraud the man.
"Stergo deceived an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor, maliciously draining his life savings so she could become a millionaire through fraud," says U.S. Attorney Damian Williams. Here's how she managed to keep the scam going for so long, and what she is being charged with.
Stergo met the victim on a dating website in early 2017, and he reportedly "fell hard" for the younger woman, flattered by her attention, The Washington Post reports. Before long, Stergo allegedly asked to borrow money from the man to pay her lawyer, who she claimed was withholding funds from an injury settlement. The man sent her a $25,000 check in May 2017. This was just the beginning of a string of stories she told the victim, which ended up with him being forced to give up his apartment with his life savings drained.
According to the Post, Stergo repeatedly asked the man for more money, and at one point he was sending her $50,000 in monthly checks. "After each check was deposited, Stergo told the Victim that her bank needed more money, otherwise the accounts would be frozen, and the Victim would never be paid back," the indictment says. "The Victim continued to write checks because he was afraid he would never see his money again."
The accused woman went to great lengths to keep her fraud going. "Stergo created fake letters from a TD Bank employee, which falsely claimed her account had a hold which would only be lifted if many tens of thousands of dollars were deposited into her account," prosecutors say. "Stergo also created fake invoices for the Victim to provide to his bank after the bank began questioning the large and repeated transfers of money to Stergo."
The Holocaust survivor wrote almost $3 million in 62 checks over four years, which Stergo used to buy "a home in a gated community, a condominium, a boat, and numerous cars, including a Corvette and a Suburban." Stergo reportedly used the money to fund a life of luxury.
"During the course of the fraud, Stergo also took expensive trips, staying at places like the Ritz Carlton, and spent many tens of thousands of dollars on expensive meals, gold coins and bars, jewelry, Rolex watches, and designer clothing from stores like Tiffany, Ralph Lauren, Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton and Hermes," prosecutors say.
Stergo was finally caught when the victim told his son he had been sending money to Stergo with the understanding it would be paid back. When his son convinced him it was all a scam, the checks stopped.
FBI Assistant Director Michael J. Driscoll says the bureau is "determined to get justice for victims of fraud and to ensure that scammers face justice for their actions. Today we allege the defendant callously preyed on a senior citizen simply seeking companionship, defrauding him of his life savings." Stergo has been charged with wire fraud. She faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.