Facebook ‘romance’ lands OFW in Hong Kong jail

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Eastern Magistrates' Courts in Sai Wan Ho

Wiping away tears, a 48-year-old Filipino domestic worker in Tung Chung yesterday (July 24) admitted to laundering more than $600,000 (P4.4 million) for her “online boyfriend.”

Jeanette C. Rodriguez, of Ying Hong Street, Tung Chung, Lantau pleaded guilty at the Eastern Magistrates Courts after the police found suspicious transactions worth a total of $677,331.04 involving her two accounts with the Bank of China and the Hang Seng Bank.

The funds were deposited by four Chinese women who were also courted on Facebook and tricked by Rodriguez’s online boyfriend, a certain Mr. Brown, into giving him money.

The domestic helper, a single mother of four children, admitted to being part of the money laundering scam after Mr. Brown, whom she met on Facebook, promised to come to HK to marry her. She was also told to keep $12,000 of the dirty money.

“I admit it,” Rodriguez told Eastern Presiding Magistrate Peter Law.

The judge sentenced her to eight months in jail, noting that money laundering is “a very serious” offense in HK, a centre of international finance.

“Money laundering is a very serious matter, especially with international elements,” Judge Law said.

“In the present case, the defendant started out believing the romance—this is a cheated romance—and in a later stage it turned criminal,” he added.

Rodriguez’s lawyer told the court that she met Mr. Brown on Facebook.

“She had met the guy, Mr. Brown, on Facebook, social media app, she fell in love with him,” the lawyer said.

“They started chatting, getting to know each other, until he promised he will come over to HK to marry her,” he said.

“She believed they were lovers and trusted each other,” he added.

The prosecution said that, between April 27, 2017 and June 15, 2018, the domestic worker dealt with the laundered funds worth $551,530.34 that were found in her Hang Seng Bank account.

The money came from four Chinese women that ” Mr Brown” also courted for cash. One of the four deposited $100,000.

After the funds were deposited, Rodriguez withdrew them by ATM and deposited them to other banks, including one based in Taiwan.

When her Hang Seng account was suspended, she opened another with the Bank of China.

From March 15, 2018 to April 26, 2018, Rodriguez allegedly dealt with laundered funds worth $125,800.7 using her Bank of China account. She was arrested on Nov. 16, 2018 after the four Chinese women complained to the police.

Rodriguez’s lawyer thanked Judge Law for his leniency. The magistrate said the Rodriguez said the “starting point” for her sentencing was 15 months in jail for each of the two charges.

But because of her guilty plea and because she was also tricked by “Mr. Brown,” he lowered this to eight months. He also ruled that Rodriguez would serve the two jail sentences concurrently so she will stay in jail for eight months instead of 16.