Crime

She sent Biloxi woman a counterfeit check. And printed more worth $26 million.

A California woman who printed counterfeit checks for a Biloxi woman and others has been sentenced to prison and ordered to repay 10 victims a total of $32,857.

Susan Ann Villeneuve, 62, of Escalon, California, was part of an international fraud ring dismantled after the Biloxi woman told a federal agent she thought she was being scammed by a man she’d met on a dating website.

Romance scams and work-at-home scams were among ways the crimes were committed against hundreds of victims and caused millions of dollars in losses in the U.S., federal officials say.

Judge Sul Ozerden sentenced Villeneuve on Tuesday to seven years in prison for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, court records show. Villeneuve accepted a plea deal in May.

Three Nigerian nationals identified as ring leaders were sentenced to prison terms of 25, 95 and 115 years in prison in May. They are among those arrested in a videotaped raid December 2015 in South Africa, where a federal agent from Gulfport was on hand for the raid.

The Biloxi woman thought she was communicating online with a romantic interest in 2011. She received two BlackBerry Torch smartphones bought with a credit card that used the stolen identity of another Harrison County resident, records show. The package also contained shipping labels and instructions to re-ship the phones to an address in Pretoria, South Africa, where the electronics were sold.

The Biloxi woman was instructed to cash a $3,000 check, which was counterfeit, and sent part of the money to someone else.

Two Leake County residents and one each from Greene and Jefferson counties also are among victims identified by initials only in the indictment.

Many victims haven’t been identified. If you think you were a victim, email USAMSS.Scams@usdoj.gov.

Homeland Security Investigations discovered Villeneuve had designed and printed counterfeit checks written against at least 101 businesses, and printed more than 6,800 fake checks totaling more than $26 million from August 2010 through June 2013, court papers show.

She and 15 others were arrested in South Africa, Canada, California, Wisconsin and New York in an eight-count indictment filed in Gulfport.

The United Parcel Service, American Express and AT&T had combined total losses of about $2 million.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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