Florida Woman Sentenced to 51 Months in Prison for Defrauding Holocaust Survivor of $2.8 Million in Connection with Romance Scam
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that Peaches Stergo was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos to 51 months in prison in connection with her years-long scheme to defraud an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor of his life savings.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Peaches Stergo callously defrauded an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor who was simply looking for companionship. 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.”
According to the Indictment and other filings and statements made in court:
From at least in or about May 2017, up to and including at least October 2021, STERGO engaged in a scheme to defraud an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor (the “Victim”) of over $2.8 million, which was his life savings.
STERGO met the Victim on a dating website approximately seven years ago. In or about early 2017, STERGO asked the Victim to borrow money to pay her lawyer, who she claimed was refusing to release funds from an injury settlement. After the Victim gave her the money, STERGO said the settlement funds had been deposited into her TD Bank account. In reality, bank records show STERGO never received any money from an injury settlement.
Over the next four and a half years, STERGO continued her lies. She repeatedly demanded that the Victim deposit money into her bank accounts. She claimed that if he did not, her accounts would be frozen, and he would never be paid back. In total, the Victim wrote 62 checks — totaling over $2.8 million — that were deposited into one of two of STERGO’s bank accounts.
In furtherance of the fraud, STERGO created a fake email account, intended to appear as if it belonged to a TD Bank employee. She also created fake letters from a TD Bank employee and fake invoices.
STERGO called defrauding the Victim her “business.” Once, STERGO told her real significant other that the Victim had said he “loved” her. STERGO thought that her successful manipulation of the Victim’s emotions was humorous, following up her message with “lol.” She also joked in a text message that the Victim was “broke” — that “[h]e don’t have anything else to pawn.” But when the scam was over — when the Victim was no longer sending STERGO money — she was upset, not because she felt bad for the Victim or had a sense of remorse, but because she was unwilling to earn money though legitimate employment; she preferred to be a fraudster. As she said in a text message, “I am just aggravated hurt frustrated that I haven’t made money . . . I don’t want to work . . . it’s too hard.”
While the Victim lost his life savings and was forced to give up his apartment, STERGO lived a life of luxury with the millions she received from the fraud: she bought a home in a gated community, a condominium, a boat, and numerous cars, including a Corvette and a Suburban. During the course of the fraud, STERGO also took expensive trips, staying at places like the Ritz Carlton, and spent many tens of thousands of dollars on expensive meals, gold coins and bars, jewelry, Rolex watches, and designer clothing from stores like Tiffany, Ralph Lauren, Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, and Hermes.
In imposing today’s sentence, Judge Ramos noted that STERGO’s conduct was “unspeakably cruel” and motivated by “greed.”
In addition to her prison term, STERGO, 36, of Champions Gate, Florida, was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,830,775 and forfeit the same amount, including the home she purchased in a gated community and over 100 luxury items she purchased with fraud proceeds, including Rolex watches, designer purses and clothing, and large amounts of gold and jewelry.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
This case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Sowlati is in charge of the prosecution.