Man Guilty In Web Dating Scam; Also Ran Pharrell Show Scheme

A man who conned a South Korean steel company out of $375,000 by falsely claiming he could help it book a Pharrell concert has pleaded guilty to online dating scams that cost a Pennsylvania woman and others nearly $1 million.

Sigismond Segbefia, 29, was living in Silver Spring, Maryland, when he ran the scams from 2013 until he was arrested April 21 by customs officials at New York’s Kennedy Airport as he returned from his native Ghana.

Segbefia pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft before a federal judge in Pittsburgh on Wednesday and has agreed to be deported after he is sentenced on April 12. He remains in custody.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Melucci told the judge that Segbefia conned at least eight women he met online into wiring him more than $980,000 by posing as a widowed businessman and others. Segbefia also incorporated a business called Eastern Starts LLC in Maryland, so he could use that name in his various scams.

In pleading guilty, he also acknowledged bilking Dosko Co., a South Korean steelmaker, by pretending to promote a Pharrell Williams show. The company was planning to expand into entertainment to diversify its revenues.

Photo: Joel Ryan / Invision / AP
iTunes Festival, Roundhouse, London, UK

Segbefia spent more than $100,000 of Dosko’s money, but the FBI is still trying to get $266,000 in a frozen bank account returned to the Korean company. That money, and other funds Segbefia stole, is part of nearly $1.2 million he’s voluntarily forfeiting to the government, Melucci told the judge.

A Pittsburgh-area woman wired $185,000 to a bank account controlled by Segbefia in 11 separate transactions from December 2013 to August 2015, Melucci told the judge.

Segbefia pretended to be a 55-year-old Australian who owned a western Pennsylvania medical supply business. Eventually, Segbefia persuaded the woman to send him money by claiming he was having financial and legal difficulties, including trying to ship some devices from his company to England.

Segbefia was charged with identity theft because he used the name and address of a real person — an unwitting Pittsburgh-area postal worker – as part of the ruse, Melucci said.

Another woman, this one in Colorado, wired Segbefia approximately $500,000 in a similar scam between August 2014 and January. He met that woman on by pretending to be a 51-year-old Army sergeant in Afghanistan. He told the woman he needed money because the United Nations took control of his bank accounts during his assignment, and that he would repay her later, according to the indictment.

Segbefia also got that woman to send him $10,000, supposedly for his airfare home, as well as taxes and fees he claimed he had to pay in order to bring home $7.5 million worth of gems, according to the indictment.

Segbefia spent much of the money he stole from the women, but sent tens of thousands of dollars back to Ghana, too, though Melucci didn’t explain why.

The wire fraud count carries up to 20 years in prison and the identity theft count carries a mandatory two-year sentence on top of any other Segbefia might receive.

Under a plea bargain, the government will recommend just a two-year prison sentence after which Segbefia will be deported, Melucci told the judge.

Segbefia’s defense attorney didn’t comment.