68-Year-Old American Woman Jailed Two Years For Role In Nigerian Online Scam

A 68-year-old Meadville woman with arthritis and other chronic health problems — including anxiety severe enough that she had an emotional support dog with her in court — has been sentenced to two years of probation for acting as a go-between in a multi-layered mail fraud scheme that federal prosecutors said originated in Nigeria.

The defendant, Diana Eckert, got involved in the scams after she was duped into believing a Nigerian she met on Facebook was in love with her, the defense said according to court records.

Eckert also has mental issues, and she sees herself “as slower than most,” according to the records.

Eckert received the sentence of probation in U.S. District Court in Erie on Thursday as she cradled the support dog, which is small enough for her to hold in her lap.

Eckert risked going to prison or getting house arrest, but U.S. Judge Susan Paradise Baxter referred to her “marginal health” and gave her probation and a warning not to end up at the federal courthouse in Erie in the future.

“I am sorry for my actions,” Eckert said. “It is never going to happen again.”

Eckert pleaded guilty in September to one felony count each of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and making a false statement to a postal inspector. With the plea, she admitted to being involved in three kinds of fraud: romance scams, car-buying scams and scams to put advertising decals on cars, according to court records. The scams occurred between May 2020 to July 2021.

Eckert received money from victims, converted the funds into bitcoin and remitted the funds “to accounts controlled by co-conspirators located in Nigeria,” according to the indictment returned against her in 2021.

The indictment alleged Eckert worked with the unknown co-conspirators in Nigeria to victimize people throughout the United States. The Nigerians induced the victims to send money to Eckert through the U.S. mail, and Eckert sent the bitcoin-converted funds to Nigeria, according to the indictment.

The federal sentencing guidelines recommended that Eckert get eight to 14 months in federal prison, but probation was also an option.

The Federal Public Defender’s Office cited Eckert’s health problems and asked for a year of probation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office asked for house arrest, arguing that Eckert knew that she was engaging in fraud and ignored at least three warnings from postal inspectors that she was involved in scams. The office said postal inspectors launched the probe against Eckert after noticing that she was receiving multiple packages in which she was accepting money from possible fraud victims.

“Ms. Eckert was told several times that she was essentially involved in money laundering,” the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Bengel, of Pittsburgh, said in court. “It is hard to sustain the view that Ms. Eckert did not know what she was doing.”

Source: Goerie.com

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