FBI: Money-laundering scheme involved faking relationship on dating sites

(WKBN Photo)

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Twenty people are facing charges in what FBI investigators in Youngstown called an international money-laundering scheme.

The roundup of suspects began about 7 a.m. Wednesday. Twelve people were arrested in Youngstown, two in Atlanta and one in Pittsburgh. Investigators say the group was involved in laundering $16 million in stolen money as part of an international fraud ring operating in Canada, Africa and other parts of the U.S.

The group obtained financial account information by tricking the victims into believing that they were engaging in legitimate business. Those victims then transferred money to bank accounts in control of the suspects, according to an indictment.

“(They) even used online dating sites, faking relationships to have people wire them money,” said Paul Flannery, assistant U.S. attorney.

Police said the schemes also involved computer hacking, spoofed emails and computer takeovers.

A mid-level operator identified by investigators as Zachary Howell was accused of recruiting and managing a group of “low-level conspirators” in the crime by maintaining shell corporations that had no legitimate business.

Howell was murdered in February, found in a burning car in Youngstown. He had been collecting signatures to appear on the ballot in the Youngstown mayoral race before he was reported missing.

Investigators believe that the murder was unrelated to the fraud ring.

Ten people have already pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy. Three suspects, Terrance Howard, Jamal Perry and Julius Williams are still at large.

“We may not be able to recapture their money, but we at least put a dent in the organization and prevent further fraud,” said Todd Worth, Youngstown Federal Bureau of Investigation.

These suspects are still at large, according to the FBI.

The case was investigated by the FBI’s offices in Youngstown, Buffalo and Tampa, as well as by the Toronto Police Service.

Indicted are the following:

  • Julius Smith Williams, 46
  • Jamal Perry, 37
  • Joseph Joe III, 40
  • William Howell, 47
  • Terry Marlowe, 53
  • Emmett Conner, 44
  • Sterling Green, 47
  • Keisha Johnson, 32
  • Kayla Neeley, 29
  • Isiah Patterson, 29
  • Donald Washington, Jr., 43
  • Terrance Phillips, 41
  • Steve Croom, Jr., 40
  • Crystal Jefferson, 39
  • Dulcinea Purdue, 32
  • Terrance Howard, 43
  • Cobie Phillips, Jr., 41
  • Ray Wynn, 43
  • Jermaine Donlow, 45
  • Semira Stone, 29

Anyone with information on the three at-large suspects is asked to call the FBI tip line at (330) 333-1847.