CHARLOTTE — A Charlotte man will be deported to Africa after serving time in prison for his role in an online romance and gold scheme that bilked older women out of more than $1 million, prosecutors said.
Suleman Alhassan, 38, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Charlotte on Thursday to four years and three months in prison, according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray's office.
"Alhassan preyed upon older victims by exploiting their vulnerabilities, including their human need for a personal connection and a loving relationship," Murray said in a statement. "Some of the victims were exploited repeatedly, until their well ran dry and they had no more money to give."
Alhassan is a citizen of the West African nation of Ghana and lives in Charlotte, prosecutors said.
He, along with conspirators who have not been indicted, used online dating websites to pull off the fraud in Charlotte and Ghana, according to a criminal indictment, The Charlotte Observer previously reported. They created fake profiles and used bogus identities on the sites, prosecutors said.
More than 20 older women were victimized in the scam that began in 2016, according to court documents.
Alhassan and his conspirators told their victims they owned "large quantities of gold" in Ghana and needed money to ship the gold to the United States and other countries, according to the indictment. Prosecutors say the victims were asked to send cash in the mail and give money via wire transfer services and money orders.
Victims "would receive a share of the profits when the gold was sold or brought into the United States," Alhassan told them, according to court records.
According to the indictment, Alhassan and his conspirators also said they needed money to obtain travel documents for the person with whom the victim believed to be in a romantic relationship.
They got more money out of their victims by telling them they'd encountered problems with travel visas and customs-related issues, court records show.
Alhassan and his conspirators kept calling, texting and emailing their victims for even more money to cover new fees.
In August 2017, investigators stopped Alhassan at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and seized more than $130,000 in cash from him, court records show. The money was from the scheme, which Alhassan continued until his arrest in June 2019, according to court and jail records.
Alhassan pleaded guilty in 2019 to wire and mail fraud conspiracy in the case.
He has been in the Mecklenburg County jail since his arrest. He was to be transferred to a federal lockup once one is designated for him, according to Murray's office.