By Alex Roth
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

May 17, 2003

A husband and wife have been indicted in San Diego federal court on charges of using the Internet to sucker lovelorn men into shelling out money for prospective Russian wives and girlfriends who didn't exist.

The case was one of several cited by Attorney General John Ashcroft in a Washington, D.C., news conference yesterday to announce a crackdown on Internet scams.

Ashcroft said federal authorities have charged 135 people with Internet scams in recent months. The crimes range from conducting bogus auctions to setting up fake banking Web sites to collect account numbers.

In the San Diego case, a San Bernardino County couple was arrested earlier this week on charges of using the Internet to pose as Russian women seeking companionship. These fake women would strike up online romances with unsuspecting men and then ask for financial help to travel to the United States to meet them, according a federal indictment issued May 7.

Robert McCoy, 39, and Anna Grountovaia, 31, both of Rancho Cucamonga pleaded not guilty Tuesday in San Diego federal court to wire fraud and other charges. Both are in federal custody here.

Authorities say the couple bilked men around the country, including at least four in San Diego County, out of $600,000 to $1 million.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego wouldn't comment about the case yesterday. McCoy's lawyer didn't return a phone call seeking comment; Grountovaia's lawyer couldn't be located.

A hearing is scheduled Tuesday to decide whether the couple should remain in custody and, if so, what the bail should be.