Mother-Daughter Duo Sentenced in Fake Soldier Internet ‘Romance Scam’

  • Mother-Daughter Duo Sentenced in Fake Soldier Internet 'Romance Scam' (ABC News)
  • Mother-Daughter Duo Sentenced in Fake Soldier Internet ‘Romance Scam’ (ABC News)

 A mother and daughter who tricked hundreds of people into sending money to individuals they thought were U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan were sentenced to prison for their role in the “romance scam,” Colorado’s attorney general announced Wednesday.

Prosecutors said the pair helped funnel money to Nigeria after their accomplices lured women ononline dating sites into becoming romantically involved with and giving thousands of dollars to people they thought were members of the military. The two stole more than $1 million, ultimately roping in 374 victims in more than 40 countries, the attorney general said.

The mostly female victims were looking for love on the Internet, but instead had their hearts broken when they realized the soldiers weren’t real, prosecutors said in their indictment last year.

They fell victim to the scheme on dating and social networking sites, including Facebook, prosecutors said. The perpetrators sent photographs and military documents to the victims to convince them they were soldiers, then asked the victims to wire money to pay for satellite phones or travel expenses so they could visit, prosecutors said.

Tracy Vasseur and her mother, Karen Vasseur, acted as agents who received those payments and passed them on to Nigeria, prosecutors said, and now they each face a dozen or more years of prison time after pleading guilty to violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, the attorney general’s office said. Prosecutors accused them of posing as “agents” who opened 20 bank accounts and wired money from the victims to individuals in Nigeria from 2009 to 2012.

Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers told ABC News the scam was the first he dealt with in which the perpetrators invoked the military to win over victims. Exploiting the military led to particularly harsh sentences, he said.

“The military angle was something that was very offensive to us, and we were able to convey that to the court, and they were similarly repulsed by it,” Suthers said.

The mother-daughter team sent the money to 94 locations in Nigeria, and an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Secret Service and others has yet to pinpoint the people who directed the Vasseurs, Suthers said. The pair also sent money to Ecuador, Great Britain, India, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere in the United States, last year’s indictment read.

Suthers said the way in which the duo become involved in the fraud in the first place remained a “loose end” that had yet to be resolved.

Tracy Vasseur admitted to investigators that she used her 16-year-old daughter to send and receive tens of thousands of dollars in the wire transfers, prosecutors said in their indictment of the pair last year.

She was sentenced on Monday to 15 years in jail and five years parole in the Internet scam case. She also received a four-year sentence for crimes she committed while free on bond.

Her mother was sentenced in July to 12 years in jail and five years parole for her role in the scam, in addition to a 10-year sentence for stealing money by promising loans that never materialized.

Tracy Vasseur’s lawyer, Christian Earle, declined to comment on the sentencing, and her mother’s lawyer, James Aber, did not respond to a request for comment.

A hearing to determine restitution is forthcoming, according to the attorney general’s office.


Action in Syria will be ‘limited and narrow,’ Obama says as U.S. edges closer to strike


President Barack Obama pauses after answering questions from members of the media during his meeting with Baltic leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Aug. 30, 2013.

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez MonsivaisPresident Barack Obama pauses after answering questions from members of the media during his meeting with Baltic leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Aug. 30, 2013.
WASHINGTON — Edging toward a retaliatory strike, President Barack Obama said Friday he is weighing “limited and narrow” action against Syria as the administration bluntly accused Bashar Assad’s government of launching a chemical weapons attack that killed at least 1,429 people — far more than previous estimates — including more than 400 children.

No “boots on the ground,” Obama said, seeking to reassure a public weary after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With France as his only major public ally, Obama told reporters he has a strong preference for multilateral action. He added, “frankly part of the challenge we end up with here is a lot of people think something should be done but nobody wants to do it.”

Pope Francis breaks Vatican protocol — again — bows for Queen of Jordan during her visit

Tom Kington, The Telegraph

Pope Francis greets Queen Rania of Jordan at the Vatican Thursday.

AP Photo/Maurizio BrambattiPope Francis greets Queen Rania of Jordan at the Vatican Thursday.
  • AP Photo/Maurizio Brambatti
AP Photo/Maurizio BrambattiPope Francis, right, welcomes Jordan’s King Abdullah II, centre, and his wife Queen Rania.

The Pope has broken another point of Vatican protocol by bowing when he met Queen Rania of Jordan.

As head of state at the Vatican, not to mention the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, protocol requires visitors to bow to him when they meet him at the Holy See.

But Francis, who has made the forgetting of formalities a trademark of his papacy, bowed when he met a smiling Queen Rania as she visited the Vatican with King Abdullah II.

“Up until the 19th century, visitors would kiss the pope’s shoes, and the tradition is still that all visitors, women included, bow to him, but Francis behaves as he did before he became Pope and is not interested in protocol,” a senior Vatican official said.

It is not the first time the Pope has eschewed formality when receiving visitors. When Cristina Kirchner, Argentina’s president, met him in March, he gave her a kiss after she presented him with a gourd for mate, the traditional Argentine tea. Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, took the initiative when she met the Pope in July, kissing him on both cheeks.

AP Photo/Maurizio Brambatti

AP Photo/Maurizio BrambattiPope Francis held private talks with Jordan’s king and queen together on various situations in the Middle East, in particular on the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and the ongoing crisis in Syria.

Tottenham a ‘dream come true’ for Gallifuoco

  • Giancarlo Gallifuoco 
 For Australian teenager Giancarlo Gallifuoco, every moment at Premier League outfit Tottenham Hotspur is a dream come true.
 By: Glenn Osborne
 The 19-year-old midfielder has become one of the first names on the team sheet for the Spurs Under-21 side in the last year, marking an incredible transition from the Sutherland Sharks, south of Sydney, where he played his junior club football.
And the call from North London came from his good friend – and now Spurs team-mate – Massimo Luongo.
 “I was trialling in Italy but I was signed to a club in Australia, and while I was trialling in Italy, I was talking to Massimo (Luongo),” he says.
“A club in Italy had offered me a contract and I told Massimo, and he talked to Tim (Sherwood) and some people here, and then from there, they got in contact with me and I flew here,” he said.
“So Massimo recommended you?,” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said with a laugh.
Gallifuoco was told, several years ago now, while part of the Australian Institute of Sport’s football program, that he simply wasn’t good enough for a  professional football career.
How times have changed.
“I feel incredibly happy that I didn’t let somebody’s opinion change me, or my game,” he said.
“I’m very happy that I worked hard, but I do have to pinch myself that a club like Tottenham appreciated me and took a chance on me, and I’m now becoming the player that I’m becoming.”
When he arrived at Spurs, in February 2012 as an 18-year-old, he was blown away by the Chigwell training base – and that was before the club had moved into its new world class centre at Enfield.
“Even in the old place, I’d never seen facilities like that before. I’d never seen a football culture like England before,” he says.
It has been a steep learning curve for Gallifuoco, but he’s learning at a rapid rate.
“It’s hard to say one specific thing. I think as a player all-round I have got better. As a person being away from home, I’ve matured, and I feel like my football has matured. I’m more responsible now, on the pitch.”
“What about off it? No comment?,” I asked him.
“Haha, no,” he replied.
That learning curve has seen him play at the famous home of Spurs, White Hart Lane, including against the might of Barcelona, in the Next Gen series. The Lane and the passionate Spurs fans had an impact.
 “It was unbelievable. There were a lot of people there, it was incredible. It’s beautiful there,” he said.
Gallifuoco has often been used as the defensive player in a three-man midfield in the under-21 team, allowing more attacking players the freedom to show their wares. The versatile Gallifuoco has even slotted into centre half at times.
“My preferred position is defensive midfield, but I love centre back as well,” he explains.
He’s a big, strong presence, and good in the air – scoring a winning goal against rivals West Ham last season.
The player he wants to be like – no doubt causing some consternation among Spurs fans – is a former Arsenal midfielder.
“There’s one player that comes to mind, but he’s incredibly good, and I’m not trying to say I’m as good as him, but I feel like I could play a similar style to Patrick Vieira,” he says.
“He was smart in possession, tall and powerful, wins a lot of the ball, but his range is long, but he’s responsible, and has a big stride pattern.”
He’s not sure if he will go out on loan this season like good friend Massimo Luongo, who’s made the trip west of London along the M4 to Swindon Town. That, he says, is up to the boss, Andre Villas-Boas – for whom he has glowing praise.
“He’s awesome. He’s a very good coach, I love training with him, I love his training drills. Every tip and bit of advice he’s given me has been very good.”
And he has equally complementary words for team-mate Gareth Bale.
“Unbelievable, incredible, fantastic, and any other adjective you can think of. When you train with players like him, it brings out the best in you, because their touch is perfect, their pass is perfect, their movement is perfect. You have to keep up with that, and you find yourself competing with these players. It’s great.”
Here are some of his answers to other of my questions.
Best trainer at the club? “Tom Carroll”.
Class clown? “Laste Dombaxe”.
Most annoying team-mate? “I can’t answer that one”.
Best mate at the club? “Massimo Luongo, of course”.


Amnesty: Sexual Violence Endemic in Somalia

Displaced Somali women and girls are especially vulnerable to sexual assault.

Displaced Somali women and girls are especially vulnerable to sexual assault.
Amnesty International said two decades of conflict have allowed sexual violence to become endemic in Somalia. The human rights group says most victims don’t report the attacks to authorities, fearing stigma.

Amnesty says rape and sexual violence are a constant threat in Somalia, especially for displaced women and girls. Senior Crisis Adviser Donatella Rovera said researchers spoke with dozens of victims, one as young as 13, in Mogadishu and in camps for the displaced.
“Obviously, the humanitarian conditions are terrible and the lack of security is very prevalent. And this is a particular problem for women and girls because they are very much exposed to rape and sexual violence,” she said.
The United Nations reported in 2012 there were at least 1700 cases of rape in Somali settlements for internally displaced people . At least 70 percent of the attacks, it said, were carried out by armed men wearing government uniforms.

“Perpetrators are very rarely brought to justice. Victims of these attacks are then stigmatized within Somali society. So the combination of the fear of the stigmatization and the lack of confidence that reporting their case would lead to any justice means that in the majority of cases the victims don’t even report the cases to the police,” said Rovera.

She said that police “do not have the capacity nor the political will” to provide the protection needed to prevent such attacks – or to bring those responsible to justice.
Many of the women who were attacked live in make-shift shelters, with just a piece of plastic for a door. There’s no protection from rapists, who usually attack in the night. She told the story of one woman, who has four children and was abandoned by her husband.
“She told me that she was asleep in her little shelter when a man came in. He had a knife. It was night. She kept quiet because he threatened to kill her. The children were sleeping next to her. He raped her and then he went away. And she told me that she had not told anybody because she was afraid that if she spoke to the neighbors about what had happened to her they would just laugh at her or say bad things about her.”
Amnesty International’s senior crisis adviser said a lot “can and must be done” to solve the problem. She admitted it’s very difficult because the government controls only part of the country. Many other areas are controlled by armed groups and militias, such as al Shabab.
“But certainly where government forces are present, it is crucial that they take concrete measures to first of all to ensure security – and notably, if we talk about the IDP camps, the camps for displaced people, where most of the rapes and sexual violence occur. And secondly, more needs to be done to follow up on those cases, which are reported,” she said.

Rovera said, “The inability and unwillingness of Somali authorities to investigate these crimes – and bring the attackers to justice – leaves survivors of sexual violence even more isolated.” She added, it also contributes to a “climate of impunity in which attackers know they can get away with these crimes.”

South Africa Opposes Syria Strikes

South African president Jacob Zuma opens the South African Parliament as he speaks in Cape Town, February 14, 2013.

South African president Jacob Zuma opens the South African Parliament as he speaks in Cape Town, February 14, 2013.


JOHANNESBURG — Continental powerhouse South Africa says it opposes Western military intervention in Syria, a stance that appears to mirror that of other African nations and align with United Nations Security Council members China and Russia.
“South Africa does not believe that bombing the already suffering people and crumbling infrastructure of Syria will contribute to a sustainable solution,” said South African President Jacob Zuma on Thursday in Pretoria. “The U.N. Security Council cannot and must not be used to authorize military intervention aimed at regime change. A regime change agenda through outside military intervention undermines any hope of sustainable all-inclusive political solution.”
In recent years, South Africa has deepened ties with China and Russia, longtime supporters of the ruling ANC party during the anti-apartheid struggle, who thrice used veto powers to block resolutions targeting the Syrian government since the 2011 uprising against the ruling government of President Bashar al-Assad.
But Na’eem Jeenah, executive director of the Johannesburg-based Africa-Middle East Center, says South Africa is not purposefully trying to align with China and Russia, but is maintaining its long-held stance against unilateralism.
“For South Africa, it is a matter of principle that it sticks by its position,” he said. “There actually has not been much coming out officially from various other countries on the continent. And that is because I think that many of the other African countries are particularly concerned about negative reactions that they might get from the United States.”
The U.S. and Britain are discussing possible military strikes after alleged chemical attacks on civilians last week by the Syrian government. Syrian officials have denied the allegations, and U.N. investigators are looking into the situation and are expected to file a report later this week.
Assad has previously reached out to the African Union for support in resisting U.N. pressure. He has also asked for support from BRICS, the group of large emerging economies comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The bloc earlier this year affirmed its support for dialogue and opposition to intervention.
Researcher Tom Wheeler of the South African Institute of International Affairs says there has been no compelling reason for Africa to get involved in arguments over Syria.
“The reaction in Africa, and in South Africa, has been almost zero,” he said. “I think it is rather outside our area of concern. The events in Egypt have, if anything, overtaken any involvement in the Syrian issue.”
But Jeenah says there is another reason African nations may be reluctant to support military intervention: In recent years, Africa has seen more foreign military intervention than any other continent.
“It is a history that is there, unfolding in front of us over the past couple of years,” he said. “So the French involvement in West Africa, the French involvement in Mali, intervention in these countries, and of course Libya and the NATO bombing of Libya and NATO causing regime change in Libya, looms large in the memory of African states, of the African Union, and certainly of South Africa.”
The Security Council is expected to debate the proposed British resolution soon, after the inspectors in Syria turn in their chemical weapons report.

Ghana Court Rejects Challenge to President’s Election

Ghana's President John Dramani Mahama arrives for a meeting with France's President at the Elysee Palace in Paris, May 28, 2013 file photo.

Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama arrives for a meeting with France’s President at the Elysee Palace in Paris, May 28, 2013 file photo.

ACCRA, GHANA — The Supreme Court of Ghana has rejected a challenge to the validity of the 2012 polls that saw John Mahama elected as president. The opposition New Patriotic Party [NPP] had sought to annul the election on grounds of fraud.

The NPP claimed a number of irregularities occurred during the 2012 elections, including over-voting, voting without biometric verification and voting with duplicate serial numbers. It petitioned the Supreme Court for the elections to be annulled.

Mahama, of the governing National Democratic Congress [NDC] won the presidential poll with 50.7 percent of the vote, about 300,000 more than the NPP’s Nana Akuffo Addo, in an election contested by eight candidates.

The court ruled Thursday in a 5-4 decision that President Mahama was validly elected.
George Lawson, the deputy general secretary of the NDC, said “We have been vindicated because the things they sent to court had no standing or grounding, and it has been proven today and we are happy. The way forward is now to be focused and see how best we can shape the economy and [fulfill] the promises that we made to Ghanaians.”
Both parties in the case had said they would accept the court’s verdict, and after it was handed down Thursday NPP’s Akuffo Addo did just that. He told reporters it is important for Ghana to tread on a path that builds, rather than destroys.
“I have just called President John Dramani Mahama and have now congratulated him on being elected the fourth president of the fourth republic of our country. Whilst I disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it.  I accept what the court says brings finality to the election dispute. We shall not be asking for a review of the verdict so we can all move on in the interest of our nation,” said Addo.

Initial reaction shows there is some calm in the country. Some Ghanaian workers expressed their sentiments about the outcome. They include Awura Abena and Maxwell, both residents of Accra.
“It has been a long struggle. This period has tested our democracy,” said Abena. “No matter your political affiliation, you should be able to say that the victory is for Ghana.”
“This has put the electoral system to scrutiny. I am sure the Electoral Commission would look at the system and make it watertight. Some quality must be looked out for so that at the end of the day, the electoral laws would be strictly adhered to,” said Maxwell.
The government deployed 30,000 police around the country before the ruling, bracing for possible unrest. But there were no reports of rioting or unrest in the hours after the court’s decision.