Bruno Mars Impersonator Scams Texas Woman For $100,000

A 63-year-old woman from Houston, Texas, has been scammed out of $100,000 following an online romance with a Bruno Mars impersonator.

Two suspects in the Houston area were charged this week with third degree felony money laundering. They have been accused of accepting a $10,000 and $90,000 dollar check from a woman who thought she was messaging the Grammy award-winning singer.

Chinwendu Azuonwu, 37, appeared in court on Wednesday as prosecutors accused him of depositing a $90,000 cashier's check to his bank account in September 2018. His alleged accomplice, Basil Amadi, 29, is accused of taking a separate $10,000 cheque into his account.

Police say the money was linked to a prolific con artist, likely based abroad. The victim told police that she joined the social media platform in search of romance and that the person pretending to be Bruno Mars sent her a direct message, saying he wanted to be in a serious relationship.

Investigators said the person impersonating the singer asked the woman to write a $10,000 check to a "friend of the band" for "tour expenses." She paid another $90,000 to him two days later, after he requested more money.

She also told police that the impersonator said he wanted to quit his tour to be with her but not before requesting some money. She said she believed it was Mars because the fraudster sent her photos of the singer's shows on Instagram.

"The two people that are arrested right now, they received the money on this scam. The way the hackers monetize their crimes, they will recruit people to open up bank accounts. The people that are actually doing the hacking, they're the people that we really want to get, but they're the hardest to get," said Keith Houston, a prosecutor at the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

"Older women that are recently widowed, unexpected widows, people that are lonely. Older people tend to be more trusting; different time way before the Internet," Houston added.

In court, Azuonwu's attorney, Maverick Ray, told the judge that his client did not know Amadi and did not know who Bruno Mars was.

"He has no idea who that person is. He did not know who Bruno Mars was when I was going through the probable cause with him," Ray said.

Ray said his client's actions were common in Nigeria.

"It's not unlike them to receive a large amount of money and then wire it back home. A lot of them come here obviously to get better jobs, make better pay and then will wire or send money back to their families in Nigeria to help them out," Ray said.

Ray added that his client had lived in the U.S. for 16 years and never been committed of a felony before.

"His friend said 'hey this is my money. Here are my cashier checks.' He deposited those thinking that he was going to help him buy a car," Ray said.

But the prosecutors pointed out that if that was true, it could make Azuonwu guilty of another crime.

"If that's what he's saying, he committed a different felony, which is a violation of the money services act. That's basically where you're acting as a banker without a license. If you're just doing that for a friend, that's a third-degree felony," Houston said.

Amadi also said in court he didn't recognise Azuonwu. Amadi couldn't explain the source of the extra $10,000 in his account. Both suspects were released on bail, but if convicted, the pair could face two to 10 years in prison.

As part of Azuonwu's bail conditions, he had to surrender his Nigerian passport. He's also banned from having drugs, alcohol, or firearms, and can't contact the alleged victim.

The next court date is scheduled for April.

Bruno Mars at the Grammy Awards
Singer Bruno Mars holds up the award for the Record of the Year, Uptown Funk onstage during the 58th Annual Grammy music Awards in Los Angeles February 15, 2016. A woman in Texas was scammed out of $100,000 when she met fraudsters on Instagram pretending to be the singer. Robyn Beck/Getty