Mother, daughter sentenced in Nigerian Internet dating scam that netted $1M

DENVER - A mother and daughter from Colorado have been sentenced for their roles in a "Nigerian Internet romance scam" that resulted in 374 victims throughout the world.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers announced the sentences Wednesday against Tracy Vasseur, 40, and her mother, Karen Vasseur, 74, of Brighton, Colo.

Suthers said the Vasseurs stole more than $1 million by luring unsuspecting women to Internet dating sites by posing as members of the U.S. military serving in Afghanistan.

"After a relationship was established, the purported military member would begin asking the victim to send money to an 'agent' in Colorado," primarily through electronic fund transfer services like Western Union or Money Gram, according to the original indictment. "Among other reasons, victims were frequently told that the money they sent would pay for satellite phones, so that the victim and the perpetrator could talk directly to each other, or for travel expenses, so that the "soldier" could take authorized leave from duty to visit the victim in the U.S."

The crimes were carried out during a three-year period. 

"Not only did this mother-daughter duo break the law, they broke hearts worldwide," said Suthers. "It is fitting that they received stiff sentences for their unconscionable crimes committed in the name of love and the United States military."

The mother-daughter duo worked with associates in Nigeria, wiring most of the stolen money to them and kept about a 10 percent cut "although they would often receive less," their indictment stated. 

Tracy Vasseur received a 15-year sentence with the Department of Corrections plus five years parole. In addition, she received a four-year DOC sentence with three years parole to be run consecutively for a total of 19 years. The additional four-year sentence stemmed from a case in which Vasseur was free on bond from the Nigerian case and committed several new crimes related to trying to gain control over her children's inheritance and for attempting to influence a public servant, a class four felony.  

Karen Vasseur pled guilty in Adams County District Court to violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act. She was sentenced to 12 years with the Department of Corrections, plus five years parole, to run concurrent to the 10-year DOC sentence she received for multiple counts of theft from at-risk adults in Weld County.

According to Suthers, she falsely represented to victims that she had inherited millions of dollars from a military friend in Nigeria and would able to provide them with unsecured loans if they would pay an origination fee upfront. Vasseur never provided the loans yet kept thousands of dollars in payments, he said.

Restitution will be determined at a later date.   

The Office of the Attorney General worked in conjunction with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Brighton Police Department and the U.S. Secret Service to investigate, indict and prosecute the case.  

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