Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, has announced the unsealing of a six-count Indictment charging MONA FAIZ MONTRAGE for her role in a series of romance schemes and for laundering the proceeds of those schemes.
MONTRAGE was arrested in the United Kingdom on November 10, 2022, and was extradited from the United Kingdom on May 12, 2023. MONTRAGE will be presented before U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty, to whom the case is assigned, later today.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As alleged, Mona Faiz Montrage was a member of a criminal conspiracy that specifically targeted older Americans through romance scams. These scams can be both financially and emotionally devastating for vulnerable victims. Thanks to the efforts of our law enforcement partners, Montrage was arrested abroad and has been brought to the United States to face justice.”
FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael J. Driscoll said: “We alleged today that Ms. Montrage participated in multiple romance scams – often targeting elderly victims – resulting in more than $2 million in fraudulent funds under her control. Romance scams – especially those that target older individuals – are of major concern. The FBI will be tireless in our efforts to hold fraudsters accountable in the criminal justice system.”
As alleged in the Indictment and other publicly filed materials:
From at least in or about 2013 through in or about 2019, MONTRAGE was a member of a criminal enterprise (the “Enterprise”) based in West Africa that committed a series of frauds against individuals and businesses in the United States, including romance scams.
Many of the Enterprise’s romance scam victims were vulnerable, older men and women who lived alone. The Enterprise frequently conducted the romance scams by sending the victims emails, text messages, and social media messages that deceived the victims into believing that they were in romantic relationships with a person who had, in fact, a fake identity assumed by members of the Enterprise. Once members of the Enterprise had successfully convinced victims that they were in a romantic relationship and had gained their trust, they convinced the victims, under false pretenses, to transfer money to bank accounts the victims believed were controlled by their romantic interests, when, in fact, the bank accounts were controlled by members of the Enterprise.
MONTRAGE is a Ghanaian public figure who rose to fame as an influencer through her Instagram profile, under the username “Hajia4Reall,” which at one point had approximately 3.4 million Instagram followers and was among the top 10 profiles with the most followers in Ghana.
MONTRAGE received money from several victims of romance frauds whom members of the Enterprise tricked into sending money. Among the false pretenses used to induce victims to send money to MONTRAGE were (i) payments to transport gold to the United States from overseas; (ii) payments to resolve a fake FBI unemployment investigation; and (iii) payments to assist a fake United States army officer in receiving funds from Afghanistan.
As to one victim, MONTRAGE used her real name and spoke to the victim several times by phone. MONTRAGE sent the victim a tribal marriage certificate purporting to show that MONTRAGE and the victim had been married in Ghana. The victim sent MONTRAGE approximately 82 wire transfers totaling approximately $89,000 to purportedly help with costs associated with MONTRAGE’s father’s farm in Ghana.
In total, MONTRAGE controlled bank accounts that received over $2 million in fraudulent funds from the Enterprise.
MONTRAGE, 30, of Accra, Ghana, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy, and one count of money laundering, each of which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. MONTRAGE is also charged with one count of receipt of stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to receive stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of MONTRAGE will be determined by a judge.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding work of the FBI. Mr. Williams also thanked the United States Marshals Services, the National Extradition Unit, United States Customs and Border Protection, and the FBI Legal Attaché in London for their assistance in the investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs of the Department’s Criminal Division provided significant assistance in securing the defendant’s extradition from the United Kingdom.
The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mitzi Steiner and Kevin Mead are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.