A Florida woman who defrauded an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor out of millions of dollars in life savings in a years-long online romance scam has been sentenced to prison time.
Peaches Stergo, 36, was handed a four-year prison sentence for swindling $2.8 million from her New York-based elderly victim over nearly half a decade, federal prosecutors announced on Thursday.
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Stergo previously pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection to perpetuating the online romance scam. At her sentencing, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos described Stergo’s conduct as “unspeakably cruel.” Ramos said she was motivated by “greed.”
“Peaches Stergo callously defrauded an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor who was simply looking for companionship,” Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York said in a statement. “She used the millions of dollars in fraud proceeds to live a life of luxury at the victim’s expense. 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.”
Photo: U.S. Attorney’s Office
The online romance scam stretched back to May of 2017, federal officials said, when Stergo and the victim first met on an online dating site. Stergo first asked the victim to borrow cash to cover legal expenses related to an injury settlement. The Florida con artist would go on to repeatedly demand he deposit funds in her account, telling him that if he didn’t, her accounts would be frozen and that he’d never recover his money.
Stergo later fleeced the unnamed victim for millions more — splurging on a gated community home, a condominium, Chevrolet Corvette, a boat, Ritz Carlton hotel stays, Rolex watches and designer clothing items. According to prosecutors, Stergo ultimately wiped out the elderly victim’s entire life savings and caused him to lose his apartment.
According to investigators, Stergo furthered her romance scam by setting up a fake email account belonging to a non-existent TD Bank worker. Stergo also drafted fake letters from TD Bank employees and created fake invoices. In total, Stergo deposited at least 62 checks from the victim — totaling more than $2.8 million — into two different bank accounts in her name.
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Prosecutors said that when the romance scam concluded, Stergo taunted the victim, and bragged about her fraudster lifestyle in text messages.
“I am just aggravated, hurt, frustrated that I haven’t made money… I don’t want to work… it’s too hard,” Stergo told the victim.
Prosecutors previously described Stergo’s conduct as “sick” and “sad.” Prior to striking a plea deal, Stergo had faced a maximum of 20 years in prison. The FBI also assisted in the investigation.
Stergo was also ordered to pay more than $2.8 million in restitution to the victim. She was sentenced to three years of probation following her release from prison.