A Hampton man pleaded guilty last week to being the leader of a fraud scheme that conned sailors through online dating apps and cost 25 Navy Federal Credit Union account holders more than $363,000.
Trequan M. Smith pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Newport News to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft in exchange for prosecutors agreeing to dismiss four other counts. Prosecutors said he and at least five others carried out the scheme between April 2020 and October 2021.
The ruse was twofold.
Court documents state Smith and the others pretended to be Navy Federal Credit Union employees, contacted multiple credit union account holders and informed them fraudulent purchases had been made with their accounts. They obtained account information from each person and then transferred money out of the person’s account.
Members of the group also set up profiles on dating apps such as Tinder, where they posed as women interested in romantic relationships. They used those connections to find other sailors’ bank accounts where they could transfer the stolen funds.
After the money was transferred to the sailors’ accounts, a member of the conspiracy group would then ask the sailor to withdraw the transferred money and give it to them — often under the guise of helping a relative in the Navy who was trying to send them money.
Most of the targeted sailors were “junior members” of the Navy with limited financial means, according to the documents, and most of the account holders who had money stolen were from Hampton Roads.
So far, investigators have discovered 25 people who had a total of $363,225 taken from their accounts. The individual losses ranged from $1,000 in one case to $91,000 in another. The investigation is ongoing, and more victims could be located, according to a statement of facts filed in the case.
When Smith found out one of his female co-conspirators had been contacted by law enforcement in July, he destroyed more than a dozen phones used to commit the fraud, the statement said.
He later tracked the woman’s car to a meeting she was having with investigators at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newport News. He confronted the woman the next day while she was a passenger in his car, where he punched her in the head, slammed her head into the passenger’s side window and choked her, the statement said.
Among the charges that are to be dropped as a result of Smith’s plea agreement are one count of obstruction of justice and one count of witness tampering that stem from the assault on the co-conspirator.
Sentencing for Smith is scheduled for Aug. 8. The maximum term he could receive is 32 years in federal prison.