Widowed Marine raising son was really scammer targeting women on dating apps, feds say

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Women on dating sites like Plenty of Fish thought they were giving a widowed U.S. Marine money to replace stolen Christmas gifts or pay for his sick son’s medical expenses, according to federal prosecutors.

Instead, the money went to a 39-year-old man who used it to pay off his personal loans.

Eugene Johnson Jr. is accusing of pilfering more than $276,000 from eight women in three different states. On Friday, prosecutors said, Johnson pleaded guilty to mail fraud in connection with the online romance scam he reportedly ran from his home in Maryland over the course of more than three years.

“Through his use of fictitious personas, the defendant’s fraudulent scheme preyed on members of our community who thought they were helping a service member with significant financial needs,” Acting U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh said in a news release for the Eastern District of Virginia.

A defense attorney representing Johnson did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on Monday.

According to court documents prosecutors filed with the guilty plea, Johnson went by various aliases such as “Tony Taylor” and “Michael Royer” on dating websites. Prosecutors said he frequently used the same backstory — an active-duty U.S. Marine from Maine raising a son with his own mother after the child’s mom died.

“When purporting to establish a romantic relationship with his victims, Johnson claimed that he wanted to marry each victim, buy a house with her, and raise his son and any children they might have together,” the government said.

It didn’t take long for Johnson to start asking for money, usually for things prosecutors said “he presented as very emotional.”

Sometimes he said that his car key had been stolen along with “expensive Christmas gifts” and he needed funds to replace them, court documents state. Johnson is also accused of telling women his bank accounts had been frozen because of tax troubles or financial struggles his parents had while traveling internationally with his son.

“The defendant would then ask the women to send him money for a down payment to the IRS or to help his family return to the United States,” prosecutors said.

Johnson similarly convinced them to give him money he could send to the IRS to avoid arrest, the government said, or to pay for his and his son’s medical expenses.

To bolster his claims, Johnson is accused as posing as his mother, members of law enforcement, military officers and healthcare providers in text messages he sent to the women from different phone numbers. Prosecutors said Johnson always told the women he had money to pay them back — either from savings, lottery pool winnings or a financial settlement.

“The defendant falsely promised to repay victims from those funds after his bank accounts were unfrozen or, in the alternative, after he received a large sum of money that he claimed the government owed him,” prosecutors said. “In truth, the defendant did not then have and was not then entitled to receive any significant sum of money.”

Johnson would ask the women for more money at increasing intervals, according to court filings. Sometimes they wiped out their own savings and income to meet his requests, even opening new lines of credit and loans to help him.

“The defendant continued soliciting money from each woman until she exhausted her own resources, refused to send any further sums, or began questioning the veracity of his various claims,” the government said.

From December 2014 to January 2018, prosecutors said Johnson bilked a total of $276,361.

He was caught at a Virginia hotel in 2018 after a woman filed a report with the local sheriff’s office. Prosecutors said she gave investigators the address of the hotel where she met him and a description of his car. When approached by law enforcement, Johnson first told investigators he was at the hotel on business, then admitted to meeting a woman there he met on Craigslist, court filings state.

Johnson reportedly said he had met multiple women at the hotel and used an alias “to prevent them from stalk[ing] him,” the government said. He also said they gave him money “maybe once” or “a few times” to pay for “stuff, gas [and] food.”

Prosecutors charged Johnson in a criminal complaint on May 5. He waived his right to an indictment and pleaded guilty Friday, court filings show. Johnson now faces up to 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced on Sept. 17.

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