NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WRIC) — A Newport News man pleaded guilty on Tuesday, Sept. 13, to being part of a conspiracy to defraud Navy Sailors out of money by using fake dating profiles.

According to the Department of Justice, from April to August 2021, Samari Smith, 20, and at least four other people created online dating profiles on apps like Tinder posing as women interested in romantic relationships. Smith and his co-conspirators then used these profiles to target Navy sailors.

In the fraud, a “woman” from one of these profiles would tell a sailor that a family member in the Navy was trying to send her money, and asked if the sailor could send the money instead. In reality, there was no family member in the Navy, and all the money was going to Smith and his team.

Smith was directly involved in defrauding four sailors in the Navy who were stationed in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area at the time. The victims lost more than $40,000 combined.

Smith pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 27, 2023, according to court records. He faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

Two co-conspirators previously pleaded guilty, including Trequan Smith, 21, and Emani Burton, 23, both of Hampton. According to court documents, Trequan Smith was responsible for leading a larger conspiracy that ultimately targeted dozens of Navy sailors and defrauded them out of thousands of dollars.

Trequan Smith pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft in March. He faces a mandatory minimum of two years in prison and a maximum penalty of 32 years in prison. His sentencing is currently set for Sept. 28.

Burton pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud in March and was sentenced to a term of one day of incarceration and three years of supervised release. 

This case was investigated under the leadership and coordination of the Newport News Financial Crimes Task Force.