Widow loses $500,000 life savings after being duped twice by romance scammers

She was looking for love in all the wrong places, and it cost her. A Massachusetts widow lost her life savings after being duped twice by romance scammers she met online — with the second con artist claiming to be a law enforcement officer who could help arrest the first fraudster.

The second scammer, 68-year-old Henry James Corder, was sentenced this week to 34 months in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution to the elderly victim. Prosecutors say Corder first approached the widow in 2012 on an online dating site. When she told him that she had been the victim of a prior fraud by someone she believed was a Nigerian romance scammer living in Afghanistan, Corder said he was a U.S. Marshal and that he could help her as she could be in legal trouble for sending the money.

“‘He took part in the scheme to protect his economic self-interest, pay his girlfriend’s bills and buy shiny toys for himself. That is just plain, old fashioned greed.‘”

— Sentencing memo submitted by federal prosecutors

But prosecutors say Corder was not a U.S. Marshal; he was an unlicensed security guard at a gas station in Erie, Pa. who lived mostly off of disability checks.  Over the next three years, prosecutors say Corder convinced the widow — who was identified in court papers only by her initials, E.C. — to send him her entire life savings of $500,000. He said he needed the cash to send investigators to Afghanistan, hire security to guard her house, buy body armor, and to help him pay for cancer treatments and funeral expenses for his relatives.   He also wooed the widow into thinking they were in a romantic relationship. She came to meet him in Erie several times, although he never brought her to his house or went to visit her in Massachusetts, prosecutors said. According to investigators, Corder never had cancer and had no relatives who died, nor did he hire anybody to help the widow. Instead, he used the money to pay off his mortgage, buy a Chevrolet Camaro and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and pay the tax penalties when his live-in girlfriend took money out early from her retirement account. “He took part in the scheme to protect his economic self-interest, pay his girlfriend’s bills and buy shiny toys for himself. That is just plain, old fashioned greed,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.  Corder’s attorney, Stephen Sebald, said his client’s relationship with the woman had initially been genuinely romantic. Sebald said Corder had felt that the money she gave him at first was a gift, but “then it got out of hand.” In court filings, Sebald said his client “recognized the seriousness of his crime and the damage he has caused his victim,” but argued for home confinement rather than prison time because Corder’s health had significantly declined in recent years. He said Corder is morbidly obese and relies on a wheelchair to get around, suffers from diabetes, early-stage dementia, glaucoma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among other ailments. He had to be brought to his sentencing hearing by ambulance and would be at high-risk of contracting coronavirus in prison, Sebald said. Prosecutors argued that Corder’s health concerns were of secondary importance to the position in which he had left the widow, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and is in danger of losing her house. They also noted he had a previous conviction in 1992 for stealing $7,000 from a firefighter’s charity. “Corder’s theft from a charity shows a particular hardness of heart that was repeated here when he left a widow penniless. Obviously Corder learned nothing from that earlier conviction except maybe how to accomplish a more lucrative and despicable goal,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing calling for the strongest sentence possible. At his sentencing, Corder told the court that he was “sorry that I got myself into this.” according to the Erie Times-News.

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