PITTSBURGH (AP) — A man federal prosecutors say was victimized in an overseas, online romance scam has pleaded guilty to wire fraud for stealing more than $1.4 million from two Pittsburgh-area companies whose funds he controlled.
Jeffery Plimpton, 59, acknowledged using more than $13,000 of the money he stole to pay his mortgage, and nearly $69,000 to pay credit card bills. But most of the money — nearly $1.39 million — was sent overseas "at the direction of a woman with whom he had an online relationship," Assistant U.S. Attorney Shardul Desai told a judge Wednesday. At least some of the money was sent to Malaysia.
Plimpton stole the money from Alpha Aromatics, a fragrance company, and a subsidiary, Pestco Professional Services, a pest control firm, while working as Alpha's controller from April 2014 until the thefts were discovered in an internal accounting review in December. Plimpton was fired then confessed stealing the money to company officials and, eventually, the FBI, Desai said.
Confronted by Alpha's chief operating officer, Plimpton "claimed he invested company funds in offshore accounts," Desai said. He's since repaid $50,000.
Plimpton, who now lives in Southaven, Mississippi, honestly believed the overseas money was to be invested by a woman he met online, public defender Linda Cohn told the judge.
"There's no indication that actually was a woman. That was someone Mr. Plimpton believed was a woman," Cohn told U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer. "He also wants the court to know how truly sorry for his conduct he is, your honor."
Outside court, Cohn declined to further explain the situation.
The attorneys have agreed that federal guidelines call for a prison term of between 33 and 41 months when Plimpton returns for sentencing Dec. 15. The judge allowed him to remain free on bond until then.
Desai acknowledged that Plimpton's behavior was driven "pretty much by a romance fraud-type situation."
Desai wouldn't detail who wound up with the money overseas but "it's definitely fair to say the money's gone. It wasn't a legitimate person for the money to go to."
Online dating scams, particularly those involving overseas financial fraud, have become more common in recent years.
The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center logged 12,509 victims of "Confidence Fraud/Romance" scams who lost more than $203 million last year. So far this year, the center has 7,462 complaints resulting in nearly $120 million in losses.
In April, Sigismond Segbefia, a native of Ghana who lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, was sentenced to two years in prison by a federal judge in Pittsburgh after pleading guilty to charges that he bilked a Pennsylvania woman he met online out of more than $220,000.
Segbefia, 29, used the name and address of an unwitting Pittsburgh-area postal worker to make his online identity seem more legitimate, but claimed to be a 55-year-old Australian who owned a western Pennsylvania medical supply business, authorities say. He got the woman to send him money by claiming he needed it to ship medical devices from his company to England.
In another con, Segbefia admitted he pretended to be a 51-year-old Army sergeant in Afghanistan. That online dating victim wired him more than $505,000 over six months.