Back in June, a mother and daughter from Colorado, Tracy Vasseur, 40, and Karen Vasseur, 73, were charged with helping unknown Nigerian bosses take money from women in an elaborate online dating scam. More than $1 million was stolen from 374 unsuspecting women in 40 different countries.
In the scheme, unknown scammers posing as members of the U.S. Armed Forces pursued online romances with victims they met on dating sites and Facebook. The scammers “proved” their identities with fake military documents and personal photos, and eventually start asking for money for “satellite phones,” or so the “soldier” could travel to meet the victim. The Vasseurs acted as military “agents” to collect wire transfers from the victims.
Read Colorado mother and daughter charged in online dating scam with fake military members on ABCNews.go.com.
The actions of Tracy and Karen Vasseur are despicable. The actions of the con artists in Nigeria who went trolling for lonely women are despicable. But the actions of U.S. law enforcement officials aren’t much better.
The Colorado Attorney General, John W. Suthers, issued a press release trumpeting the indictment of the two women on June 19, 2012. The attorney general’s office investigated the case in conjunction with the Brighton, Colorado Police Department and the U.S. Secret Service.
Suthers made sure to proclaim that Tracy Vasseur faces up to 205 years in prison and Karen Vasseur faces up to 172 years. It seems that Suthers was more interested in building a sensational case than in protecting the public, because he could have shut down the Vasseurs’ operation far sooner than he did, preventing hundreds of victims from losing their money.
3 years of fraud
According to the indictment, Tracy Vasseur and Karen Vasseur engaged in a pattern of racketeering between February 25, 2009 and March 24, 2012. Their activities were discovered in August 2010. They were interviewed by the Brighton, Colorado police department in July 2011. Their home was searched on March 14, 2012. The indictment states, somewhat incredulously, that after their home was searched, Karen Vasseur wired money to Nigeria two more times.
Why didn’t the police stop them? Why didn’t they care about the women who were losing their money?
All the gory details are in the indictment, District Court, City and County of Denver, Colorado, v. Tracy Lea Vasseur and Karen Rae Vasseur.
Between February 25, 2009 and March 24, 2012, Tracy and Karen Vasseur engaged in hundreds of fraudulent financial transactions. They accepted a total of $603,119 from 338 victims. Plus, another $59,280 was taken from 29 at-risk adults (aged 60 or older).
Authorities apparently learned about Vasseurs’ activities in August of 2010. That means that all of the biggest losses, listed as separate incidents in the indictment, happened after law enforcement knew what the women were doing.
11/2/10 to 12/31/10:
$24,200 taken from a woman in North Carolina
2/9/11 to 3/16/11:
$43,950 taken from a woman in Ontario, Canada
2/16/11 to 4/8/11:
$142,999 taken from a woman from Hertfordshire, England.
3/11/11 to 1/30/12:
Vasseurs established a fake merchant account at PayPal to process stolen credit card information
4/1/11 to 4/12/11:
$59,606 taken from a woman in England.
4/7/11 to 6/2/11:
$46,317 taken from a woman in Sweden
4/21/11 to 5/9/11:
$22,478 taken from a woman in the Philippines
7/11 Vasseurs interviewed by Brighton, Colorado police department
10/11/11 to 10/14/11:
$61,293 taken from a woman in Lancashire, England
3/14/12 Vasseurs’ home searched
2/2/12 to 4/5/12:
A total of $25,313 was taken from 7 victims through fraudulent use of their credit cards.
And then there’s this bonehead incident, described in the indictment:
On June 2, 2011, the victim from Sweden named in Predicate Act Four, sent a wire to A-Team Distributions (Vasseurs’ account) at US Bank in the amount of $29,004.00. Later, she became suspicious and contacted US Bank to report what she thought was fraud and to see if she could get her money back. US Bank, acting on the information provided by her, froze the funds that were in the A-Team account. Tracy Vasseur became upset and when the bank would not release the funds based on her demands, she hired a law firm in California to write a demand letter to the bank.
In the letter, the attorney that drafted it acused the bank of acting fraudulently and of violating “numerous Federal Banking Laws and Regulations.” Based on information Tracy Vasseur gave him, the attorney represented that Tracy Vasseur ran a business that shipped goods to other countries, and that she had sold the woman from Sweden a “2006 bobcat 442C withch cost Ms. Vasseur $39,000.” The attorney went on to threaten punitive damages and damages for severe emotional distress and accused the bank of engaging in “illegal conduct.” Soon after the letter was received by the bank, it released the funds to Tracy Vasseur and the woman in Sweden was never repaid. Tracy told investigators that she “lied about it.” She further admitted that, after receiving the funds, she sent them to to Olaymigoke in Nigeria.
Why let it continue?
The point is, the scammers in Nigeria needed the Vasseurs in order to steal from unsuspecting women around the world who thought they were corresponding with members of the military. Why did law enforcement let the scam continue as long as they did? Had they acted earlier, hundreds of women would have been spared, including the seven biggest losers and seven victims of credit card fraud.
Tracy Vasseur isn’t going to serve 205 years in prison, and her mother isn’t going to serve 178 years. A measly 10- or 20-year sentence would have shut them down. Perhaps the Colorado Attorney General worried that those headlines wouldn’t be sensational enough.