Indictment Unsealed And “Wanted” Posters Issued For Fugitives Charged With Multimillion Dollar International Cyber Fraud Scheme
Earlier today, charges were unsealed against Romanian fugitive Nicolae Popescu, the leader of an international organized crime syndicate that ran a multimillion dollar cyber fraud scheme, and six other fugitives charged with participating in the same scheme. Interpol has issued red notices to foreign law enforcement partners seeking assistance in the apprehension of these fugitives, and the FBI has also released “Wanted” posters to facilitate their arrests.
The charges were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; George Venizelos, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), New York Office; and Mythili Raman, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
Popescu, Romanian nationals Daniel Alexe,1 Dmitru Daniel Bosogioiu, Ovidiu Cristea, and Dragomir Razvan, and a defendant who goes by the names “George Skyper” and “Tudor Barbu Lautaru,” as well as Albanian national Fabjan Meme, were originally charged in a criminal complaint with six other defendants for their participation in a cyber fraud conspiracy that targeted primarily American consumers on such U.S.-based websites as Cars.com and AutoTrader.com. Their six co-defendants were arrested in a coordinated international takedown on December 5, 2012,2 but Popescu, Alexe, Bosogioiu, Cristea, Razvan, and Meme have remained at large.
As alleged in the complaint and subsequent indictment, the defendants participated in a long-term conspiracy to saturate Internet marketplace websites including 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 – that did not actually exist. The defendants employed co-conspirators who 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. The defendants allegedly even pretended to sell cars from nonexistent auto dealerships in the United States and created phony websites for these fictitious dealerships. As part of the scheme, the defendants produced and used high-quality fake passports to be used as identification by co-conspirators in the United States, including Razvan (who previously resided in California), to open American bank accounts. After the “sellers” reached an agreement with the victim buyers, they would often email them invoices purporting to be from Amazon Payments, PayPal, or other online payment services, with instructions to transfer the money to the American bank accounts used by the defendants. The defendants and their co-conspirators allegedly used counterfeit service marks in designing the invoices so that they would appear identical to communications from legitimate payment services. The illicit proceeds were then withdrawn from the U.S. bank accounts and sent to the defendants in Europe by wire transfer and other methods.
The complaint and indictment describe the extent to which Popescu, in particular, led the conspiracy. Among other things, Popescu coordinated the roles of the various participants in the scheme – he hired and fired passport makers based on the quality of the fake passports they produced, supervised co-conspirators who were responsible for placing the fraudulent ads and corresponding with the victims, and ensured that the illicit proceeds transferred to the U.S. bank accounts were quickly collected and transferred to himself and others acting on his behalf in Europe. Popescu also allegedly directed Cristea to obtain and transfer luxury watches purchased using the illegal proceeds of the scheme, including three Audemars Piguet watches with a combined retail value of over $140,000, to his associates in Europe. It is estimated that the defendants earned over $3 million from the fraudulent scheme.
According to the charging documents, Popescu and his close associate Bosogioiu demonstrated that they were aware of the risks of prosecution in the United States. In a recorded conversation on October 23, 2011, Bosogioiu asked about the difference between federal and state law in the United States and vowed to avoid the FBI. Popescu, meanwhile, predicted on July 28, 2011, that “criminals will not be extradited from Romania to U.S.A. . . . [I]t will never happen.”
“Using forged documents and phony websites, for years Popescu and his criminal syndicate reached across the ocean to pick the pockets of hard working Americans looking to purchase cars. They thought their distance would insulate them from law enforcement scrutiny. They were wrong. By now, Popescu and his band of fugitives have seen their co-conspirators brought here to account for their crimes. Today’s actions place them squarely in the sights of our partners in international law enforcement,” said United States Attorney Lynch. “We will not stop in our efforts to find these fugitives and bring them to justice for the crimes they have allegedly committed against our citizens.”
“As alleged, the defendants infiltrated the cyber marketplace with advertisements for high-value items that didn’t exist. They siphoned funds from victims to fuel their greedy desires and created false identities, fake websites and counterfeit certificates of title in order to make the scheme more convincing. Popescu and his co-conspirators were masters of illusion, but they can’t escape their ultimate reality. With the help of our law enforcement partners at home and abroad, we will bring them to justice,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Venizelos.
“Today, we have unsealed charges – and issued “wanted” posters and Interpol red notices – for a band of dangerous cybercriminals who are alleged to have stolen millions of dollars from unsuspecting consumers around the globe,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman. “As described in the indictment, the leader of this band of thieves openly proclaimed that he is beyond the reach of the U.S. criminal justice system. But with the help of our international partners, we will track down and capture every alleged member of this criminal syndicate, no matter where they are hiding.”
The charges in the complaint and the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. 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.
The offices of the FBI Legal Attachés in Romania, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Hungary were instrumental in coordinating efforts with the United States’ international partners, and the U.S. government thanks its partners in Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany for their close cooperation throughout this investigation. The Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Office of International Affairs, and Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, as well as the International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center; the Internet Crime Complaint Center; the Costa Mesa, Calif., Police Department; the Orange County, Calif., District Attorney’s Office; and the New York City Police Department also provided assistance in the investigation.
2 Three defendants, Cristea Mircea, Ion Pieptea, and Nicolae Simion, were arrested in Romania and extradited to the United States in March 2013. Defendant Emil Butoi was arrested in the United Kingdom and also recently extradited to the United States. The Czech Republic has ordered defendant Aurel Cojocaru’s extradition and defendant Nicolae Ghebosila is still engaged in extradition proceedings in Canada.
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