A 66-year-old British Columbia man who operated sham online dating sites and defrauded more than 1,000 people was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 51 months in prison.
Barrie Turner of Delta must also pay $303,196 in restitution to his customers. He was arrested last March when he tried to enter the United States at Point Roberts.
Turner operated more than 200 “Executive Dating” web sites, including Executive Catholic Dating, Executive Gay Dating and Executive Seattle Dating.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service found that Turner was accepting payment from customers, but not providing any legitimate matchmaking services, according to a press release from the US. Attorney's office in Seattle.
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At sentencing, according to the press release, U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez told Turner "You stole the victims money, you stole their hope and dignity for the most base of reasons: money.”
The press release continued:
The investigation determined that more than 1,000 people signed up for dating services from one of Turner's 240 web sites. The clients paid as much as $1,500 for the dating service and got nothing for their money.
In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors wrote to the Court that TURNER’s “dating service websites were nothing more than a scheme to defraud. Customers repeatedly were sent matches that were fake, with elaborate profiles created by the defendant and his co-conspirators.” Clients who were interested in meeting their fake “match” received identical emails, telling them that the “match” had decided to date someone they had already met.
Speaking to the court, Assistant United States Attorney Tom Woods said the scheme was “fake, fraudulent, and cruel.” Some 260 victims returned surveys to the court. Woods said Turner “did this cruelty over and over, across the country and in Canada and Great Britain.”
The fees for joining the dating services were sent to mailbox stores around the country and then forwarded to a mailbox in Point Roberts, Washington. Point Roberts is a small peninsula just south of the Canadian Border in Washington State.
He pleaded guilty in June 2010.
In all, 260 victims of the scheme filed impact statements with the court for a total restitution amount of $303,196. One woman wrote in her impact statement that Turner's service “raised my hopes and then they dashed them. I felt foolish, embarrassed, and depressed. They preyed on me (and others) when we are the most vulnerable, all for the sake of their own greed."
Judge Martinez noted that the case was different than the typical fraud. “If someone orders a computer on eBay and gets a box of rocks, they are unhappy and mad... but they don’t lose their hope, dignity and self-respect as these people did,” he said.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service with assistance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.