A Florida woman pleaded guilty on Friday to engaging in a years-long romance scheme to defraud an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor of his life savings, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Peaches Stergo, 36, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Stergo has agreed to pay more than $2.83 million in restitution and forfeit that same amount. She also agreed to give up 100 luxury items she bought using the money from her scheme, including gold, jewelry, designer clothing and purses, and Rolex watches. She will be sentenced on July 27.
“Peaches Stergo stole the life savings from an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor who was just looking for companionship. This conduct is sick – and sad,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
“Using the millions in fraud proceeds, Stergo lived a life of luxury, purchasing a home in a gated community and a Corvette, taking vacations at hotels like the Ritz Carlton, and buying thousands in designer clothing, while at the same time causing her elderly victim to lose his apartment. Thanks to the hard work of the FBI and this Office, Stergo is being held accountable for her fraud,” Williams continued.
Stergo, from Champions Gate, met the Holocaust survivor on a dating website six or seven years ago and began asking him for money in early 2017, the indictment alleges.
She allegedly told him she needed to borrow money to pay her lawyer, who she claimed was refusing to release funds from an injury settlement. Once the survivor sent Stergo the money, she told him she deposited the funds into her TD Bank account, but bank records revealed that she never received any money from an injury settlement, officials said.
“Over the next four and a half years, Stergo continued her lies. She repeatedly demanded that the Victim deposit money into her bank accounts,” according to the DOJ. “She claimed that if he did not, her accounts would be frozen and he would never be paid back. In total, the victim wrote 62 checks — totaling over $2.8 million — that were deposited into one of two of Stergo’s bank accounts.”
Stergo also allegedly created a fake email account that was “intended to appear as if it belonged to a TD Bank employee,” as well as letters from a TD Bank employee and invoices, officials said.
“While the Victim lost his life savings and was forced to give up his apartment, Stergo lived a life of luxury with the millions she received from the fraud: she bought a home in a gated community, a condominium, a boat, and numerous cars, including a Corvette and a Suburban,” according to the DOJ.
“During the course of the fraud, Stergo also took expensive trips, staying at places like the Ritz Carlton, and spent many tens of thousands of dollars on expensive meals, gold coins and bars, jewelry, Rolex watches, and designer clothing from stores like Tiffany, Ralph Lauren, Neiman Marcus, Louis Vuitton, and Hermes.”
Federal prosecutors said the scheme came to an end in October 2021 when the survivor told his son that “over time, he had given his life savings” to Stergo, according to Law & Crime.
“The victim’s son told his father that he had been scammed,” the indictment states. “After that, the victim stopped writing checks to Stergo.”