Deputy U.S. marshal accused in romance scams that bilked $2 million from seniors

Washington Post photo by Katie Mettler
U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Greenbelt, Md.

Someone who claimed to be a major general in the Army said they were in need of money to transition out of the military. Another person who claimed to be a lieutenant commander in the U.S. military abroad asked for help to pay for a shipment of gold and cash seized in a raid. And one individual who claimed to be in the Army stationed in Syria messaged a person they met on Facebook saying they needed money to retire early and return “home to his three children.”

All claimed to be in relationships with the women messaged online and all were elaborate scams, according to court documents made public Wednesday revealing the alleged ruses.

Prosecutors allege that a special deputy U.S. marshal from Maryland was part of a network that defrauded seniors out of almost $2 million in “romance scams” over several years.

Isidore Iwuagwu, 35, of Upper Marlboro, Md., has been charged with conspiring to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for Maryland.

Between October 2015 and July 2021, prosecutors allege, Iwuagwu was a part of romance scams in which individuals engaged in online relationships with more than 20 victims via social media platforms and dating websites and swindled them out of large sums of money. Victims reported a combined loss of $1.9 million, according to an affidavit, and at least $585,180 was connected to accounts belonging to Iwuagwu.

In many cases, the victims reported being defrauded by individuals claiming to be deployed U.S. Armed Forces members who needed money for personal hardships, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors allege the money would then be wired to accounts controlled by Iwuagwu or mailed to him in the form of money orders, personal checks, cashier’s checks or cash. In one case, an individual claimed to be a major general who needed money for help transitioning out of the military and told the victim that Iwuagwu was his attorney. The victim sent more than $300,000 to Iwuagwu, according to the affidavit.

“If you find yourself in an online relationship and you’re asked for a bunch of money, it’s probably fraud not love,” Erek Barron, U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, said in a news release.

Iwuagwu provides security for “critical Department of Justice facilities” as a special deputy U.S. marshal and Justice Department contractor, according to the affidavit. He received special deputation in 2018.

The U.S. Marshals headquarters and Justice Department did not immediately respond for comment. It was not immediately clear whether Iwuagwu had an attorney. Attempts to contact him or family members were not immediately successful.

According to the affidavit, another victim was scammed into wiring money to accounts belonging to Iwuagwu and sending cash after someone claimed to be a Spanish doctor living in California aboard a ship who did not have access to a bank account. The person told the victim to send money to “a friend in the United States” with an account that belonged to Iwuagwu, according to the affidavit. The person then sent the victim a photo of Iwuagwu’s government identification card when they expressed doubts about sending funds. The victim sent an estimated $51,880.

Law enforcement reviewed iCloud data of Iwuagwu that revealed his alleged communications with co-conspirators discussing the money received by victims, according to the affidavit.

“Bro the woman said she cannot transfer without the id of the person whom they want to deposit the money to,” one co-conspirator said in a conversation, according to court documents.

“Jus give her any idea,” Iwuagwu responded, according to the affidavit alleging that he was telling his co-conspirator to offer “any identification” to the victim.

Law enforcement also reviewed 30 accounts belonging to Iwuagwu between 2013 and 2021 that took in $1.65 million in transfers from 119 individuals and $1.138 million in deposits from money orders, checks and cash, prosecutors said. According to the affidavit, Iwuagwu used the money he received to withdraw cash or wire money to foreign banks and companies.

Victims, who were targeted through various forms of social media including Google Hangouts, Instagram and Twitter, came from all over the country, according to the affidavit.