In a significant legal development, Ghanaian social media influencer, Mona Faiz Montrage, known by her Instagram handle “Hajia4Reall,” has pleaded guilty to conspiring to receive stolen money in a U.S. federal court. The guilty plea was announced by Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Montrage, 31, rose to fame with approximately 3.4 million followers on Instagram and was among the top 10 profiles with the most followers in Ghana. However, her celebrity status took a dark turn as she admitted her involvement in a criminal enterprise based in West Africa, operating from at least 2013 to 2019. The enterprise specialized in romance scams, targeting vulnerable individuals, particularly older men and women who lived alone.

The modus operandi of the criminal enterprise involved deceiving victims into believing they were in romantic relationships through emails, text messages, and social media interactions. Once trust was established, the victims were manipulated into transferring money to bank accounts supposedly controlled by their romantic interests, who were, in reality, fictitious identities assumed by the members of the criminal group.

Montrage played a pivotal role in the money laundering aspect of the scams, receiving funds from victims who were tricked into sending money under various false pretenses. These pretenses included payments for transporting gold to the U.S., resolving fake FBI investigations, and assisting a fictitious U.S. Army officer in receiving funds from Afghanistan.

In total, Montrage controlled bank accounts that received over $2 million in fraudulent funds from the criminal enterprise. She has now pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to receive stolen money, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Additionally, Montrage has agreed to forfeit $2,164,758.41 and make restitution in the same amount.

The sentencing for Montrage is scheduled to be determined by U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty. While the maximum potential sentence is outlined for informational purposes, the final decision rests with the judge.

The case has been lauded by Mr. Williams, the United States Attorney, who commended the outstanding work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit, with Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mitzi Steiner and Kevin Mead leading the charge.