Tammy Cheek believed herself in love with a Danish-American man named Leo who she met on an online dating site for people 50 and older.
Now she’s facing prison — and “Leo” is nowhere to be found.
Tammy Cheek, now Tammy Hamrin, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison after she pleaded guilty to misappropriating $715,000 from her company to send to her online lover, prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia said Monday in a news release.
The 58-year-old from Virginia Beach was a closing agent for real estate transactions and ran her own escrow and title company.
According to court filings, she believed “Leo” was a chemical engineer and foreign contractor who needed the money to get out of trouble with international authorities.
“She is a really nice lady, a really good lady, who made a very bad mistake,” Hamrin’s defense attorney, Andrew R. Page of Randall Page P.C., told McClatchy News on Monday.
Hamrin was charged by criminal information in January — three years after she met “Leo” on the website OurTime, which brands itself as the “the #1 dating app for mature men and women.” She waived her right to an indictment and pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in March, court filings show.
In copies of her online exchanges with “Leo” provided to the court, the pair discussed getting married and spending their lives together. He claimed to love the outdoors, taking mini vacations and cooking from scratch.
“You should be rest assured that under the sun and in the rain I would not leave you behind if we become and(sic) item,” Leo wrote in an early email. “I will love you so much that you will never have to worry about a thing.”
But soon, “Leo” claimed to need money. He requested $460,000 to make a non-residential tax payment in Spain where he claimed to be working as a government contractor. A week later, he told Hamrin he needed another $220,000.
“I do not have another quarter of a million dollars available to me,” Hamrin said in response. “All of my plans for today are ruined and like I said I’ve been up all night waiting for the call and all I got was an email asking me for more money to which I do not have.”
As the president, secretary, and treasurer of Preferred Escrow and Title Inc. and a licensed title and settlement agent, Hamrin had access to an escrow account, prosecutors said.
In total, she is accused of siphoning $715,000 worth of closing funds from 48 real estate transactions in January 2018 to pay “Leo.”
Hamrin attempted to return some of the money by depositing $199,000 of her own funds back into the escrow account, prosecutors said, leaving a shortage of $516,000.
She came clean almost immediately, Hamrin’s defense attorney said in court filings. She agreed to a judgment of $398,408 filed against her in circuit court in July 2018, sold her house to try and repay the victims and surrendered her title and settlement license.
Hamrin also gave investigators all of the information she had on “Leo,” but he was never caught, Page told McClatchy News.
“This is a very sad situation,” Page said. “As soon as she realized she was scammed, she took immediate action to try and remedy the situation and unfortunately ran out of money.”
Hamrin was admitted into a psychiatric center shortly after the fraud came to light, court filings state. In a letter to the judge, her son said she was suicidal after the discovery and attributed her decisions to childhood trauma and a deep-seated desire to find love.
“My mother, at the end of the day, is a victim of a crime that has impacted and changed her life forever,” he said. “The events that took place at her job were not done for personal gain, they were not committed out of malice, and my mother feels forever guilty for impacting other people’s lives from her poor decision.”
Prosecutors had asked for a lesser sentence, saying Hamrin was the victim of an online romance scam, tried to repay the stolen funds, had no prior criminal record and did not personally profit from the fraud. The judge seemed to agree, sentencing her below the recommended guideline range of 33 to 41 months.
“I believe the judge did try to take into consideration the fact that she did try to make amends as best as she could,” Page said.
Hamrin was also ordered to pay $315,419 in restitution. She will report to the Bureau of Prisons on Aug. 26, court filings show.