A 33-year-old Nigerian man was sentenced to 27 years in prison in Southern Illinois for promising women across the country — including several in St. Louis — the love of their lives and then extracting more than $1.7 million from them.
From 2007 to 2014, Olayinka Ilumsa Sunmola was the ringleader of an online criminal organization that infiltrated various dating websites such as Match.com, according to a release from United States Attorney Donald Boyce.
Sunmola would steal pictures of American men to chat up and “fall in love with” American women on dating sites.
“He also showered the women with poetry, cards, flowers, stuffed animals and chocolates,” the release stated. “Sunmola’s purpose was to lead each of his victims to believe that he was her ‘Prince Charming,’ her one true love, and the man with whom she was destined to spend the rest of her life.”
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Then Sunmola would create emergencies and convince the women to wire him money or ship expensive electronics. The release stated Sunmola would direct women to ship the products and wire the money to Ilumsa Sunmola, said to be his driver, or a co-worker or hotel manager. He continuously asked for more and more from the women.
Three victims were forced to file bankruptcy. Many more lost their jobs and homes, the release stated. A woman who testified against Sunmola said she lost $90,000 to his scam.
“Retirement should be a happy time,” she wrote to the court. “Instead, I am stressed and broke and working part time jobs at $10 an hour to supplement my income.”
Several businesses also fell victim to his scam after Sunmola and his associates stole credit card information. One computer manufacturer lost $800,000.
Two women in Illinois were also sexually abused when Sunmola used nude photos of the women to blackmail them and later post them publicly.
“When the lie was exposed, their worlds collapsed,” the release stated. “Some fell into depression. Two victims told the court they had seriously contemplated suicide. Even many years later, a number of Sunmola’s victims remain withdrawn and untrusting, afraid to meet new people or to venture back out on the internet.”
At his sentencing hearing, prosecutors argued he should received a longer sentence than federal guidelines because of the lasting negative effect on these women. Judge David Herndon agreed.
“‘Conspiracy,’ ‘mail and wire fraud,’ and ‘interstate extortion’ hardly sound like the kinds of crimes that leave broken lives, wrecked women, fractured families, devastation, desires to die, humiliation and shame so extreme,” Herndon said during sentencing. “But then, his charm turned to bullying, name calling, extortion, unthinkable demands and threats. Thoughts of paradise turned into thoughts of hell and, for some, thoughts of suicide.”
United Postal Service officials began in an investigation in Sunmola when a Southern Illinois woman told the agency she was conned by a man name “Elias Dyess” — one of the dozens of fictitious names Sunmola used.
A federal grand jury sitting in East St. Louis indicted Sunmola in November 2013 on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and interstate extortion. The release stated London Metropolitan Police Service arrested Sunmola on the indictment in August 2014 while he was attempting to board a plane from London to Johannesburg, South Africa.
Sunmola pleaded guilty to eight counts of the indictment on March 2, 2016, after two days of trial. Once Sunmola has served his 27-year sentence he will return to Nigeria, the release stated.
Over $200,000 of proceeds from the sale of his four properties in South Africa will be redistributed to his victims.
“Criminals who look for or who expect anonymity of the mail or the borders of a country to protect them when conducting criminal activity are placed on notice today,” said Inspector in Charge E.C. Woodson, Chicago Division U.S. Postal Inspection Service, in the release. “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, in partnering with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, will go beyond borders to ensure justice is served. Nothing is as painful as a broken heart, and this defendant caused extreme hardship to many of his victims.”
Herndon called it “the most devastating crime one could ever imagine without laying hands or even eyes on another human being.”