Romanian National Aurel Cojocaru Extradited From Czech Republic To United States To Face Charges Related To Multimillion Dollar International Cyber Fraud Scheme
Co-Defendant Cristea Mircea Pleaded Guilty Earlier Today To Wire Fraud For His Role In The Cyber Fraud Scheme
Romanian national Aurel Cojocaru has been extradited to the United States from the Czech Republic to face charges related to his participation in a sophisticated multimillion dollar cyber fraud scheme that targeted consumers on U.S.-based Internet marketplace websites such as eBay.com. Cojocaru specialized in making high-quality fraudulent passports to open U.S. bank accounts used to launder the stolen funds. His extradition followed a coordinated international takedown in December 2012 during which law enforcement officials in Romania, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and Canada, acting at the request of the United States, arrested six Romanian nationals, including Cojocaru. The Czech Republic’s Ministry of Justice granted the extradition request on August 9, 2013. Cojocaru was transported to the Eastern District of New York on November 6, 2013, and was arraigned today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann.
In addition to Cojocaru’s extradition, three other defendants – Cristea Mircea, Ion Pieptea, and Nicolae Simion – have been extradited to the United States from Romania, and one defendant, Emil Butoi, was extradited from the United Kingdom. Earlier today, Mircea pleaded guilty to committing wire fraud. Butoi pleaded guilty to committing passport fraud on November 5, 2013. Defendant Nicolae Ghebosila is still engaged in extradition proceedings in Canada. Seven defendants, including Romanian national Nicolae Popescu, are currently fugitives from justice.1
The extradition and the guilty plea were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and George Venizelos, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI).
As alleged in the complaint and subsequent indictment,2 defendants Cojocaru, Mircea and their co-conspirators saturated Internet marketplace websites, such as eBay, Cars.com, AutoTrader.com, and CycleTrader.com, with detailed advertisements for cars, motorcycles, boats, and other high‑value items generally priced in the $10,000 to $45,000 range. Unbeknownst to the buyers, however, the merchandise did not exist. The so-called sellers corresponded with the victim buyers by email, sending fraudulent certificates of title and other information designed to lure the victims into parting with their money. Sometimes, they pretended to sell cars from nonexistent auto dealerships in the United States and even created phony websites for these fictitious dealerships.
The complaint and indictment further describe how, after the purported Asellers@ reached an agreement with the victim buyers, they would often email them fraudulent invoices purporting to be from Amazon Payments, PayPal, or other online payment services, with wire transfer instructions directing the buyers to send money to American bank accounts. Foreign nationals in the United States, known as Aarrows,@ used fraudulent passports manufactured and supplied by Cojocaru and others as identification to open the bank accounts. Finally, the Aarrows@ would collect the illicit proceeds and send them to co-conspirators in Europe by wire transfer and other methods. Cojocaru produced high-quality fake passports purportedly issued by various European countries as part of this scheme. During one recorded video chat, Cojocaru displayed the tools of his trade – new holograms he had acquired in order to create more authentic-looking passports. In another recorded call, he boasted about his supposed ability to evade the Czech authorities. On December 6, 2012, however, Czech law enforcement officers arrested Cojocaru, and during their search of Cojocaru’s residence outside Prague, the Czech officers and FBI agents found over 180 stolen and fraudulent passports and dozens of identification cards.
According to court filings, the government alleges that the defendant and his coconspirators defrauded their victims of at least $3 million during the course of the conspiracy.
Defendant Cojocaru is charged with conspiracy to commit substantive offenses against the United States, passport fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment on each of the conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering counts, and a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment on the passport fraud count.
Defendant Mircea faces up to 20 years in prison as the result of his guilty plea to wire fraud. Defendant Butoi faces up to 10 years in prison as the result of his guilty plea to passport fraud.
“Cojocaru’s fraudulent passports were a key part of the criminal infrastructure supporting this sophisticated and global cyber scheme,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “He operated his fake passport factory with what he thought was impunity. But unlike his passports, our efforts to protect American consumers are genuine and, as demonstrated by Cojocaru’s arrest and extradition and Mircea’s guilty plea today, extend beyond national borders.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Venizelos stated, “Cojocaru’s extradition means he will finally have to face the American justice system. As alleged, Cojocaru played an integral part in a multi-million dollar cyber scam as the principal passport forger. Using the fake documents Cojocaru created, foreign nationals in the United States could open bank accounts under phony names and launder payments to foreign accounts from duped American buyers. Working with our law enforcement partners abroad, the FBI was able to stop this complex global scam.”
The government of the Czech Republic, particularly the Ministry of Justice, and Interpol provided significant assistance and support during the investigation, arrest, and extradition of the defendant. The Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs worked with its counterparts in the Czech Republic to effect the extradition, and the U.S. Marshals Service coordinated and transported the defendant to the United States.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Cristina Posa, Nadia Shihata, and Claire Kedeshian of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, and Trial Attorney Carol Sipperly of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 12-CR-0785 (ERK)