Con man sentenced to 5 years for Craigslist lonely hearts scam

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A callous con man who had his mom dress up as a federal judge as part of a bizarre “Catfish” scam was sentenced Thursday to five years in federal prison.

Geovani Ozuna, 25, of Merrillville, preyed on a naive, gay illegal immigrant who had posted an online lonely hearts ad on Craigslist, manipulating him in a way that was “disturbing in many ways,” U.S. District Judge John Tharp said.

By posing at different times as a Skokie cop, a corrupt lawyer and a student lover — and roping his mom into play the role of a judge — Ozuna over the course of a year concocted an elaborate story to extort his Salvadoran victim into handing him more than $27,000 in cash.

RELATED: Con man’s mom posed as federal judge in elaborate ‘Catfish’ scam

Testifying through a Spanish-speaking interpreter, the 32-year-old victim on Thursday said he had immigrated to Chicago a decade ago to escape homophobic violence in his homeland. He tearfully explained how he had been left homeless and without money even for food by Ozuna’s scam.

“I had to humiliate myself with many people,” the victim told Tharp, explaining how he’d begged friends and clients at his accounting job to loan him money to pay Ozuna off. “I had to sleep on the floor at my workplace. . . . It was extremely shameful.”

The stranger-than-fiction scheme began when Ozuna responded to his victim’s lonely-hearts ad in 2012, pretending to be a cop. Ozuna then adopted a second phony online identity, this time posing as an 18-year-old college student from California who wanted to be the victim’s lover.

After the victim sent money so that the “student” could travel to Chicago, Ozuna expertly switched back and forth between the two personas in a series of email and telephone conversations, convincing the victim that the “student” had been arrested en route and was in fact underage.

By warning the victim that he faced arrest and deportation for soliciting sex with a minor, and by taking advantage of his ignorance of U.S. law, Ozuna forced the victim to pay “fines” and “legal fees.” He invented another character — a California lawyer — and had his mom pose as a federal judge in a series of threatening phone calls and visits.

Eventually, Ozuna even threatened violence against the victim’s family in El Salvador, bringing a gun to a meeting at which he demanded payment.

“I would like to say sorry to the victim,” Ozuna said during a brief speech to the court Thursday. “I’m a human and I made a mistake.”

But Tharp told him, “You can’t simply wipe it away.”

“Most disturbingly, you recruited your own mother to assist you in a crime of violence,” he said.

The judge — who is due to sentence Ozuna’s mother later this year for her role in the scam — warned Ozuna, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, that he faces likely deportation once he completes his prison term.

He also ordered Ozuna to pay the victim back the $27,000. But the victim said he wasn’t counting on receiving a penny.

He still owes his pals and clients $14,000 they loaned him, he said.

“I’ve lost this money,” he said. “I’m the one who has to pay it back.”

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