US woman accused of defrauding Holocaust survivor, 87, of $2.8m savings
A Florida woman is accused of defrauding an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor out of his $2.8m life savings in a romance scam lasting years.
Peaches Stergo, 36, of Championsgate, south of Orlando, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with one count of wire fraud, said the US attorney’s office for southern New York.
“Today we allege the defendant callously preyed on a senior citizen simply seeking companionship, defrauding him of his life savings,” said FBI assistant director Michael J Driscoll.
Stergo, using the name “Alice”, met the victim on a dating website approximately six or seven years ago, said prosecutors.
In 2017, they said, she asked him to borrow money for a lawyer after claiming funds from an injury settlement case never arrived. But prosecutors say no such settlement case existed.
For years, Stergo allegedly deceived the victim for more money, often receiving monthly checks in $50,000 increments, reported CNN.
Stergo, prosecutors said, would tell him that if she did not receive money, her bank account would be frozen and that he would never be paid back.
Stergo is also accused of impersonating a bank employee and forging bank documents and emails to reassure the victim that he would be paid.
Over a period of four years, the victim allegedly wrote 62 checks to Stergo, eventually losing his life savings of $2.8m and his apartment.
Meanwhile, prosecutors said that Stergo used the victim’s money to live a “life of luxury”. She bought a home in a gated community, a condominium, a boat and several luxury cars, they said.
Stergo, they alleged, also took extravagant vacations and spent tens of thousands of dollars on jewelry, gold bars, and designer clothing.
The scam finally came to an end in October 2021, prosecutors said, when the victim confided in his son that he had given away his life savings but would be paid back.
When the son’s victim told his father that he had been scammed, the victim allegedly stopped writing checks.
Stergo could faces 20 years in prison, if convicted. She is expected to appear in a Florida federal court.
Approximately 24,000 victims lost over $1bn due to romance scams across the US in 2021, said the FBI, noting that older people can be especially vulnerable.