Ghanaian social media influencer, Hajia 4Reall has been extradited from the United Kingdom to the US for allegedly swindling over $2 million from older, single American men and women in a twisted lonely hearts scam, US federal prosecutors said on Monday (May 15, 2023).
Hajia 4Reall, real name Mona Faiz Montrage, who is 30 years-old, appeared in Manhattan federal court on Monday (may 15, 2023) for her alleged involvement in a series of romance schemes targeting older people who lived alone, prosecutors said.
She pleaded not guilty to the charges and is set to be released on home detention to her aunt’s New Jersey residence in the coming days on $500,000 bond with GPS tracking via an ankle monitor, her lawyer and the prosecutor’s office confirmed [click to read charge sheet here].
Hajia 4Reall — who had around 3.4 million Instagram followers of her page Hajia4Reall at one point — from at least 2013 through 2019 was involved with a group of con artists from West Africa who assumed fake identities to trick people into thinking they were in relationships with them using emails, texts and social media messages, the feds said.
The scammers would then get the victims to transfer money to them under false pretenses — such as to help move gold to the US from overseas, to resolve bogus FBI investigations and payments to help fake US Army officers in Afghanistan, court papers allege.
Hajia 4Reall, in one case, allegedly duped a victim into sending her $89,000 through 82 wire transfers on the pretext of helping her father’s farm in Ghana, the court documents claim.
She tricked the person into believing the pair were married by sending them a tribal marriage certificate after a series of phone conversations using her real identity, the filing alleges.
Hajia 4Reall also received money from several others who were swindled by scammers in her network, prosecutors allege.
In total, she netted $2 million in funds the group ripped off from victims to bank accounts she had in the Bronx and elsewhere, including one opened in the name of 4Reall Designs, a supposed clothing company.
She then allegedly laundered the stolen money to other members of the enterprise, the indictment charges.
“As alleged, Hajia 4Reall was a member of a criminal conspiracy that specifically targeted older Americans through romance scams,” Manhattan US Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. “These scams can be both financially and emotionally devastating for vulnerable victims.”
“Thanks to the efforts of our law enforcement partners, she was arrested abroad and has been brought to the United States to face justice,” the statement continued.
The social media influencer — whose Instagram account was among the top 10 most followed in Ghana –was arrested on Nov. 10, 2022, in the UK for the alleged conspiracy and brought to the US on Friday.
Hajia 4Reall is charged with wire fraud, money laundering, receipt of stolen money and conspiracy.
She faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the top charge.
Her lawyer Adam Cortez told The Post: “At this time all we know is that there are six alleged victims and only two dealt with a woman and only one of them claims that he dealt with Ms. Montrage.”
Cortez said he couldn’t comment further until he receives more information and evidence from prosecutors.
The lawyer said that his client can only travel in certain parts of New York and New Jersey pending her case.
Mona Faiz Montrage Received Over $2 Million in Fraud Proceeds and Pretended to Marry One Victim to Further the Fraud Scheme
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced the unsealing of a six-count Indictment charging MONA FAIZ MONTRAGE for her role in a series of romance schemes and for laundering the proceeds of those schemes.
MONTRAGE was arrested in the United Kingdom on November 10, 2022, and was extradited from the United Kingdom on May 12, 2023.
MONTRAGE will be presented before U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty, to whom the case is assigned, later today.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As alleged, Mona Faiz Montrage was a member of a criminal conspiracy that specifically targeted older Americans through romance scams. These scams can be both financially and emotionally devastating for vulnerable victims. Thanks to the efforts of our law enforcement partners, Montrage was arrested abroad and has been brought to the United States to face justice.”
FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael J. Driscoll said: “We alleged today that Ms. Montrage participated in multiple romance scams – often targeting elderly victims – resulting in more than $2 million in fraudulent funds under her control. Romance scams – especially those that target older individuals – are of major concern. The FBI will be tireless in our efforts to hold fraudsters accountable in the criminal justice system.”
As alleged in the Indictment and other publicly filed materials:
From at least in or about 2013 through in or about 2019, MONTRAGE was a member of a criminal enterprise (the “Enterprise”) based in West Africa that committed a series of frauds against individuals and businesses in the United States, including romance scams.
Many of the Enterprise’s romance scam victims were vulnerable, older men and women who lived alone. The Enterprise frequently conducted the romance scams by sending the victims emails, text messages, and social media messages that deceived the victims into believing that they were in romantic relationships with a person who had, in fact, a fake identity assumed by members of the Enterprise. Once members of the Enterprise had successfully convinced victims that they were in a romantic relationship and had gained their trust, they convinced the victims, under false pretenses, to transfer money to bank accounts the victims believed were controlled by their romantic interests, when, in fact, the bank accounts were controlled by members of the Enterprise.
MONTRAGE is a Ghanaian public figure who rose to fame as an influencer through her Instagram profile, under the username “Hajia4Reall,” which at one point had approximately 3.4 million Instagram followers and was among the top 10 profiles with the most followers in Ghana.
MONTRAGE received money from several victims of romance frauds whom members of the Enterprise tricked into sending money. Among the false pretenses used to induce victims to send money to MONTRAGE were (i) payments to transport gold to the United States from overseas; (ii) payments to resolve a fake FBI unemployment investigation; and (iii) payments to assist a fake United States army officer in receiving funds from Afghanistan.
As to one victim, MONTRAGE used her real name and spoke to the victim several times by phone. MONTRAGE sent the victim a tribal marriage certificate purporting to show that MONTRAGE and the victim had been married in Ghana. The victim sent MONTRAGE approximately 82 wire transfers totaling approximately $89,000 to purportedly help with costs associated with MONTRAGE’s father’s farm in Ghana.
In total, MONTRAGE controlled bank accounts that received over $2 million in fraudulent funds from the Enterprise.
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MONTRAGE, 30, of Accra, Ghana, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy, and one count of money laundering, each of which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. MONTRAGE is also charged with one count of receipt of stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to receive stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of MONTRAGE will be determined by a judge.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding work of the FBI. Mr. Williams also thanked the United States Marshals Services, the National Extradition Unit, United States Customs and Border Protection, and the FBI Legal Attaché in London for their assistance in the investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs of the Department’s Criminal Division provided significant assistance in securing the defendant’s extradition from the United Kingdom.
The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mitzi Steiner and Kevin Mead are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.