A Coon Rapids man has admitted to participating in a $1.29 million romance fraud scheme that targeted the elderly.

Solomon E. Wilfred, 42, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in St. Paul last week to mail fraud in connection with the scam, which ran from roughly June 2020 through March 2021.

Federal sentencing guidelines call for Wilfred to receive a term from just shy of 3½ to 4¼ years in prison, the plea agreement read. However, federal judges have discretion when sentencing defendants and are not bound by the guidelines. Sentencing is not yet scheduled.

The plea agreement also calls for Wilfred to pay full restitution to his victims.

Investigators and prosecutors in Minnesota are building a growing pile of cases against fraudsters behind so-called "romance scams" as more people than ever — often seniors or vulnerable adults — are falling prey to imposters who drain their accounts.

The FBI said about 24,000 victims in the United States reported losing about $1 billion to such scams in 2021, adding that many more cases likely went unreported. The Federal Trade Commission reported last week that losses attributable to romance scams climbed from $720 million in 2020 to $1.3 billion last year.

According to court records:

Wilfred and others used false personas, such as a senior U.S. diplomat or military official, and found their victims on various online social media apps.

The perpetrators then pursued a romantic connection with the victims and asked them for money on the false premise of a pressing financial need.

At times, the co-conspirators would introduce their victims to an intermediary who would corroborate the false persona's story. The victims eventually were directed to send large sums of money by mail or other means to a specified name and address.

"Wilfred received over 400 packages containing approximately $1,294,995 during the scheme," the plea document read. "Wilfred kept some of the proceeds for his personal benefit and shared proceeds with other scheme participants."

Co-defendant Dodzi K. Kordorwu, 36, of Brooklyn Center, is charged with eight counts of mail fraud. His next hearing date has yet to be scheduled.

Star Tribune staff writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.