Turning up the heat on sex fraudsters

New Jersey may enact sex-fraud legislation.

In January 2013, New Jersey nurse Mischele Lewis, who was 36 and recently divorced, created a profile on a dating site, eliciting a message from a man calling himself Liam Allen. They emailed for a short while and then met in person. He spoke with an appealing English accent, although he, too, had been born in the Garden State. Allen explained that when he was two-and-a-half his parents had shipped him off to England to live with relatives, a couple who were professors at Oxford University, which he would eventually attend. He told Lewis that he was back in the US to reconnect with his parents after he had left a job with the UK Ministry of Defense, for which he had, among other duties, flown helicopters.

"He lived all around the world, so he had never married and never had children, he told her," according to the Mail Online. The charming, funny and affectionate man quickly won Lewis’ affection. As they dated, he told her different stories about what he did for a living, including that he owned a medical records company.

"He [also] said he escorts foreign dignitaries and their families from place to place," Lewis said. "He was a glorified bodyguard, working between DC and New York."

Eventually he confessed to Lewis that he had "a super secret spy job," The Trentonian, a New Jersey newspaper, reported. "He also told her everything else she wanted him to say. ‘How pretty I was, how smart I was. All the things a woman would want to hear.’ " She was smitten and was eager to marry Allen.

By the summer, The Trentonian said, Allen told Lewis that if they were to wed, it would make their life together easier if she underwent a detailed security clearance. He told her it wasn’t completely necessary, but it would allow her to telephone him on a secure line anywhere, anytime, no matter the nature or location of his secret mission. She agreed.

That triggered months of phone calls and text messages from two men, sometimes very early in the morning, who required her to respond to a bizarre series of tests that often didn’t make sense. She was asked personal questions, the kind that she later realized could be used in identity theft, and she was instructed "to do a series of financial transfers to prove her worthiness," she told the Mail Online. She complied, sending, among other payments that she was promised would be reimbursed, US$4,300 in bank transfers.

Allen proposed in December 2013 and Lewis enthusiastically accepted. A month later she was pregnant, but that news didn’t seem to make her fiancé very happy. His comings and goings, she said later, soon after became increasingly "sketchy," triggering a level of unease within her. In early February 2014, on a whim, she looked inside his wallet, which he had uncharacteristically left out in the open.

"Inside she found an immigration card with the name of William Allen Jordan," the Mail Online reported. She didn’t investigate the name until a few days later, after he had ignored her on Valentine’s Day. A Google search made her sick to her stomach.

The first reference to William Allen Jordan that she found was on a website entitled Lovefraud.com, which had posted a story on the convicted sex offender and bigamist’s deportation to New Jersey from the UK. As she learned about the man who was father to her unborn child, Lewis started shaking and threw up. She saw a link to a book written by one of his two simultaneous wives in the UK — The Bigamist: The True Story of a Husband’s Ultimate Betrayal, by Mary Turner Thomson.

Lewis contacted Thomson, who informed her that Jordan "had at least 13 kids with eight different women," the Mail Online said. "At one time, he had two wives, two fiancées and another girlfriend on the side. She learned that Jordan was a pedophile, and had served time for molesting a girl between the ages of nine and 13. She also learned that he had swindled £198,000 — more than $333,000 — from Mary."

Nor had he ever been a spy, just a criminal. BBC.com reported in 2006, "He was jailed for five years for bigamy, dishonesty offenses, failing to register as a sex offender and illegally possessing a stun gun. Sentencing Jordan, Judge Thomas Corrie at Oxford Crown Court said: ‘You are a con man, a convicted pedophile and a bigamist. You are an inveterate exploiter of vulnerable women, not just financially but also emotionally.’" When Lewis confronted her fiancé with these revelations, he didn’t deny any of them.

Aghast at what Jordan, then 48, had done to her, Lewis strung him along for a while until she lured him to a parking lot in Cherry Hill, NJ, in April 2014, where police arrested him and charged him with sexual assault, theft by deception and impersonating law enforcement. In November 2014, Jordan pleaded guilty to defrauding Lewis of US$5,000 and, at press time, was awaiting sentencing.

The story does not end there, however.

Prosecutors had initially tried to charge Jordan with sexual assault by coercion, but a grand jury refused to indict him on that charge. That did not sit well with New Jersey State Assemblyman Troy Singleton, a Democrat. Following a meeting with Lewis, Singleton introduced a bill in November 2014 that would create the crime of "sexual assault by fraud," which it defined as "an act of sexual penetration to which a person has given consent because the actor has misrepresented the purpose of the act or has represented he is someone he is not."

Fraud invalidates any semblance of consent just as forcible sexual contact does, the politician said. "This legislation is designed to provide our state’s judiciary with another tool to assess situations where this occurs and potentially provide a legal remedy to those circumstances."

If New Jersey enacts the legislation, it won’t be the first state to do so. "According to a memo by the Office of Legislative Services written at Singleton’s request, at least five states — Tennessee, Alabama, California, Colorado and Montana — have some sort of crime for sex by fraud," an article on NJ.com noted. Canada does not have any legislation of this nature.

Attempts to link sex and fraud have existed since at least 1997, when Jane Larson, a professor at Northwestern University School of Law in Evanston, Ill., published an article in the Columbia Law Review entitled "A Feminist Rethinking of Seduction." She suggested a new tort — fraud in the inducement of sexual relations. In researching her article, Larson said she was surprised to learn that "higher standards of honesty and fair dealing apply in commercial than in personal relationships."

Whether Singleton’s bill passes is uncertain, as many opponents consider the legislation in its current wording too vague, wide-reaching and unnecessary (existing sexual assault and fraud laws, they argue, are sufficient and working).

And while the proposed sex-fraud legislation, as well as those in other jurisdictions, is aimed at perpetrators (usually men) who misrepresent themselves in order to have sex with a partner, there is another potential benefit for those concerned about light sentences meted out to fraudsters.

Forensic investigators know only too well that a significant number of fraudsters seduce a partner for the sole purpose of scamming their victim financially. In March 2014, for example, a "convicted fraudster and Iraqi refugee with a long history of ripping off women [was] back in trouble with the law, charged with defrauding a BC woman of $88,000," CBC News reported.

Faris Namrud, who often posed as an Italian, had previously served jail time for romancing victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The 46-year-old was arrested for the 11th time in 10 years for allegedly defrauding 66-year-old Kasandra Harfield of Vancouver out of $88,000.

Last November Namrud pleaded guilty to six counts of fraud over $5,000. He was awaiting sentencing at the time of writing and could face deportation once his sentence is served.

It’s unlikely Namrud’s punishment will make up for the damage he did to Harfield and his many other victims. "It is a lot to wrap my head around," Harfield said. "On so many levels — financially, emotionally. It’s just destabilizing."

Just as financial fraud is not a victimless crime, when it’s accompanied by a false seduction the pain and sense of betrayal experienced by victims can be absolutely devastating and difficult to rebound from.

If prosecutors in such cases could charge the fraudster with sexual assault — rape, in some situations — not only could the perpetrator, if convicted, find himself facing far more jail time, it might act as a deterrent to someone who previously perceived the worst case scenario, if caught, to be a fairly light sentence.

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the eighth circle of hell was reserved for fraudsters, including financial seducers. At present, many fraudsters don’t find themselves burning for too long or at too high a temperature when caught. Sex-fraud legislation might just turn up the heat to an appropriate temperature.