This Thursday a Florida woman, 36-year-old Peaches Stergo, was sentenced to more than 4 years in prison after scamming an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor of his life savings through a “romance scam.”
The scam allegedly went on for multiple years, during which Stergo stole over $2.8 million from the survivor (who has not been publicly named). According to court documents, the scam artist met her victim on a dating website, where she began asking him for money to help her allegedly get funds from a legal settlement. The stories continued as she kept asking the victim for more money for a multitude of different reasons. Prosecutors say Stergo even to told the victim that if she wouldn’t be able to pay the victim back if she didn’t have access to a TD Bank account.
The scam began in May of 2017 and lasted until October of 2021, when the victim’s son realized what was happening. By the time his son found out, the victim had already lost his life savings and was being forced to sell his apartment in Manhattan.
Stergo managed to get money from her victim in numerous ways, not just taking advantage of his generosity and feelings for her, but also by creating a fake email to pose as a TD Bank employee. Through this fake email she would make fake letters and invoices for the victim to send her more money. She also maintained a relationship with her true significant other, which is shown by many text conversations. Stergo talks to her true significant other about her victim, calling the scam her “business,” telling him that her victim told her he loved her, to which she added “lol” to the news, and even telling him that her victim had gone “broke.”
Prosecutors said: “Not only did she manipulate the Victim’s emotions for a period of years, she secretly mocked the Victim for saying he loved her. She thought it was hilarious that she was destroying his life for her own benefit.” The prosecutors were looking for a 96 month sentence, to which Sergo’s attorney, Ann Fitz, believes that her 51-month sentence is very fair.
According to Fitz, Stergo had a very unpredictable childhood consisting of trauma and instability which led Stergo to develop compulsive behaviors, such as drinking, gambling, and scamming. Fitz also said that “Ms. Stergo has expressed remorse for her actions and will make every effort to repay the restitution in this case.” Stergo is ordered to pay $2.8 million in restitution and will be giving up more than 100 luxury items purchased during the time of the scam as well as the house that she purchased in a gated community.
The victim wrote a letter to the court explaining his background, having moved to the US in his 20s after losing both parents in the Holocaust, and saying: “Over the next 60 years I worked tirelessly to establish a successful business, family, and home in New York. 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.”
In 2022 alone, the FBI reports that there were approximately 19,000 victims of romance scams, totaling nearly $740 million in losses. It is not an uncommon scam, but scamming a Holocaust survivor may be one of the coldest ones we’ve seen.