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

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

Garcia worked with four other people – who authorities say are still at large – to scam individuals out of millions and send a large portion of the funds to Nigeria. The four other suspects weren’t named. 

Garcia scammed $2.3 million in funds and had to return $464,923.91 after he pleaded 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 grown in recent years. 

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

American victims lost more than $1 billion to overseas criminals in 2023, according to an investigation conducted by CBS News. Authorities said the numbers are likely much higher because so many of these crimes go unreported. Some authorities said scams could also be outpacing law enforcement’s ability to intervene.  

A retired police officer who spoke to CBS News said he has heard about victims being turned away by investigators for numerous reasons, including limited sympathy for strangers giving their money away or that they don’t see a path to solving a crime that involves 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 funds in Bitcoin to co-conspirators in Nigeria, federal prosecutors said. However, the plea deal “demonstrates the department’s continued commitment to prosecuting transnational fraud and those who knowingly facilitate it,” said Principal Deputy 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 underscores 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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