A 48-year-old Liberian man was sentenced to 28 months in jail in District Court on Monday for his part in an elaborate online dating scam that saw a Hong Kong woman robbed of HK$1.07 million (US$137,464).
The defendant, an asylum seeker named Bill O Marshall who has been living in Hong Kong since 2008, had pleaded guilty to one count of theft and one count of possessing counterfeit banknotes on Friday, Apple Daily reported.
The court heard how the 41-year-old victim, an IT professional with a master’s degree surnamed Bo, lost the money to a pair of swindlers, including a foreigner with whom she had become romantically involved.
It was revealed that the victim met a Caucasian male on an online dating site in May last year and the pair became long-distance lovers.
The man, who called himself Franklin, claimed he was a medical doctor working for the World Health Organization in Syria.
He promised to travel to Hong Kong to visit her, but told her he would send her a package containing US$1 million in cash from Britain before he arrived.
Acting on the man’s instructions, Bo wired HK$33,000 to the UK to ensure that the package would arrive safely.
Later she received a call from Marshall, who pretended to be a UN diplomat and asked her to pay HK$160,000 for the package to clear customs.
On June 26, Marshall brought the package to the victim’s home. However, when opened it was found to contain what were said to be blackened US dollar bills.
The defendant asked her for more than HK$880,000 to buy solvent to clean the bills.
Later, she told a friend about the transactions, and was told that she had fallen prey to swindlers. She reported the case to police on July 31 last year and Marshall was arrested on August 5.
Police found 262 fake US$100 bills at the defendant’s home and laboratory tests confirmed the liquid used to blacken the bills was tincture of iodine while the so-called solvent was vitamin C fluid.
The defendant told the court that the man with whom the victim had fallen in love had planned the crime and he had only known him since June 2016, Ming Pao Daily reported.
He said he had been talked into swindling Bo because he was in financial distress.
In sentencing, Deputy District Judge Jason Wan said that while the defendant was not the mastermind of the scam, his role in acting as an accomplice was crucial to carrying out the crime.