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Florida man gets 4 years in prison for laundering proceeds from romance scam

Romance scams landed a Florida man in prison for four years. Niselio Barros Garcia Jr., 50, of Winter Garden, was sentenced Tuesday to 48 months in prison in federal court for his role in the fraud ring.

Garcia worked with four others — who authorities say are still at large — to defraud millions of people and send much of the funds to Nigeria. The other four suspects have not been named.

Garcia defrauded $2.3 million and was required to return $464,923.91 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering in the Southern District of Florida. He would collect bank account information, federal prosecutors said, and send the money to criminal associates in Nigeria.

Romance scams – and their complexity – have increased in recent years.

“Every year, year after year, these numbers get higher and higher,” Supervisory Special Agent David Harding, program manager for the FBI’s Economic Crimes Unit, said in a 2024 interview for raise awareness about romance scams. He said that in 2022, more than 19,000 victims lost approximately $735 million, according to figures reported by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

American victims lost more than $1 billion to foreign criminals in 2023, according to a survey produced by CBS News. Authorities have said the numbers are likely much higher because many of these crimes go unreported. Some authorities have stated scams could also exceed the intervention capacity of law enforcement.

A retired police officer who spoke to CBS News said he has heard of victims being turned away by investigators for many reasons, including limited sympathy for the strangers who gave their money or not seeing a way to solving a crime involving people halfway. around the world.

These crimes can also be difficult to trace. In Garcia’s case, he used a cryptocurrency exchange to conceal and transfer the Bitcoin funds to co-conspirators in Nigeria, federal prosecutors said. However, the plea agreement “demonstrates the Department’s continued commitment to prosecuting transnational fraud and those who knowingly facilitate it,” said Principal Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s civil division.

“By facilitating the concealment of illicit profits, third-party money launderers enable large-scale transnational fraud schemes. This case highlights the department’s commitment to protecting consumers and disrupting the infrastructure that makes these crimes lucrative,” Boynton said.

Fraud complaints can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission by clicking here.

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