A Florida woman who swindled the life savings from an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor in a “romance scam” was sentenced to over four years in prison Thursday, federal prosecutors said.
Stergo met the victim, whom authorities have never publicly identified, on a dating website and asked for money that she said was needed to help get funds from a legal settlement, according to court documents.
She then told a series of more lies, fabricating stories that she needed money to gain access to a TD Bank account or else she would never be able to repay the victim, prosecutors said.
Stergo also sent heartless text messages, the U.S. attorney’s office for Southern New York said in a statement.
Stergo called the scam her “business” and told her real lover in a text that the elderly man said he loved her; she added “lol” to that message, the prosecutor’s office said. She also remarked that he had become “broke.”
Stergo was sentenced to 51 months in prison, or four years and three months, the prosecutor’s office said. She was also ordered to pay $2.8 million in restitution.
She also will forfeit the home she bought in a gated community, as well as over 100 luxury items, including Rolex watches and jewelry, prosecutors said.
Stergo’s attorney, Ann Fitz, said the 51-month sentence was fair. Prosecutors sought 96 months, according to court documents.
Stergo suffered childhood instability and trauma, which caused compulsive behaviors like past drinking and gambling, and the scam was also a compulsion, Fitz wrote in a sentencing submission.
Fitz said in an email Thursday night, “Ms. Stergo has expressed remorse for her actions and will make every effort to repay the restitution in this case.”
The scam lasted from around May 2017 until October 2021, prosecutors said.
The man’s son eventually found out what was going on and put a stop to it, but it was too late. The man lost his life savings and had to give up his Manhattan apartment, according to the indictment.
In a scheme to persuade the elderly man to send more money, Stergo created an email account to pose as a TD Bank employee and created fake letters and invoices.
At one point Stergo wrote to her real significant other that she needed money and a car, and “I don’t want you to work like you are it’s too hard,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing submission. Prosecutors called the texts “jarring in their callousness.”
“Not only did she manipulate the Victim’s emotions for a period of years, she secretly mocked the Victim for saying he loved her,” prosecutors wrote. “She thought it was hilarious that she was destroying his life for her own benefit.”
The victim lost both his parents in the Holocaust and moved to the U.S. in his 20s for a better life, he wrote in a letter to the court, which is excerpted in the government’s sentencing request.
“Over the next 60 years, I worked tirelessly to establish a successful business, family, and home in New York,” the victim’s letter reads. “I am now 88 years old, and the last thing I expected was to finish my days in the same manner that I started them — penniless and betrayed.”
The FBI warns that romance scammers sometimes use fake profiles to gain people’s trust on dating websites, which eventually leads to asking for money. In some cases they ask to invest in cryptocurrency by falsely claiming insider knowledge and using fake websites.
Last year there were around 19,000 victims of romance scams in the U.S., with almost $740 million in losses, the FBI said.
There were around 24,000 victims in 2021, with losses reported at around $1 billion, it said.
This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com.