RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Two men were arrested in Hidalgo County after being accused of defrauding women by entering fake, online relationships and getting them to send money.
Ramon Esparza was arrested in Donna, and Jeffrey Lee Moore was arrested in Mission Friday in connection to the scheme.
Esparza was charged with each count in the 34-count indictment, including 29 counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit laundering of monetary instruments and one count of laundering of monetary instruments.
Moore is facing two counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit laundering of monetary instruments and one count of laundering monetary instruments, records show.
The indictment begins by stating that a 76-year-old female joined an online dating website where they met an individual claiming to be “Michael Cole.”
The two entered in an online romantic relationship, where “Cole” would request money from the woman for various reasons, such as buying food and supplies. “Cole” would tell the woman to send the money to Ramon Esparza, the indictment stated.
The woman sent “Cole” more than $39,000, according to the indictment.
The indictment then refers to a similar incident involving a 75-year-old woman who met a man named “Lionel Richie,” on Google Hangouts. They too entered into an online romantic relationship, and “Richie” would ask for money so that he could purchase a home so the two could move in together. The $32,640 in payments were also sent to Esparza.
The indictment then references two other incidents involving a 60-year-old woman and a 61-year-old woman. One entered a relationship with a “Larry Jones” and sent nearly $44,000 in checks.
The other woman began an online relationship with “Robert Abrams” and wired $70,000 in two transactions to Esparza as well. The money sent to “Abrams” was under idea that it was to assist injuries related to military service.
Esparza is then accused of recruiting Jones to assist in transferring the received payments to “their final destination,” the indictment states.
The document shows that Esparza received payments totaling $39,347.95 from Sarasota, Florida, $32,640 from Honolulu, Hawaii and $43,950 from Fairview Heights, Illinois.
Esparza and Moore were both said to have received payments of $170,060 from St. Simons Island in Georgia.
In total, the women paid the men $287,997.95, the indictment alleges.
Federal records show that both Esparza and Moore entered bond amounts of $30,000 and were released on an unsecured bond.
They face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.