News and Press Releases

United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington

Leader Of ‘Skimming’ Ring With International Ties Pleads Guilty

Defendant Admits more than $300,000 in Bank Fraud and Ties to Romanian Crime Ring

March 9, 2012

            The leader of a crime ring involved with “skimming” information from dozens of bank automated teller machines (ATM) pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to bank fraud, conspiracy, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  ISMAIL SALI, 53, of Kirkland, Washington, pleaded guilty today, just days before his trial was to begin on a 24 count indictment.  SALI and his coconspirators used high tech devices and pinhole cameras to obtain personal information from bank customers, and then used that information to drain bank accounts.  Information developed by the Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force revealed that SALI had been involved in skimming in the Seattle area as early as 2007.  Much of the money was sent overseas to associates in Romania.  Some of those convicted in this case were Romanian citizens illegally residing in the United States.  U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik scheduled sentencing for June 15, 2012.

            In September 2011, a search warrant executed at the Kirkland home shared by SALI and defendant Eugen Tirca resulted in the seizure of forms for making card skimmers, fake face plates for ATM machines, numerous gift cards and electronic equipment for encoding stolen account data onto the cards.  Investigators also found documents tying SALI to defendants who had previously been arrested and prosecuted for skimming activity, including Ion Armeanca, Dan Petri, Ovidiu Mateescu and Claudiu Tudor.  Three of those defendants have already been convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.  Under the terms of the SALI plea agreement, the defense will recommend a sentence of no less than six years in prison and prosecutors will recommend no more than eight years in prison.  SALI has agreed to make restitution of $357,256.  In his plea agreement he is forfeiting any interest in some $10,000 in cash seized at the time of his arrest, as well as three vehicles, computer equipment and three firearms.

            Eugen Trica is scheduled for sentencing on April 27, 2012 and Ion Armeanca is scheduled for sentencing on March 30, 2012.

            The U.S. Attorney’s Office and U.S. Secret Service have some tips for consumers to try to avoid being victimized by skimmers:

  • If the access door to a lobby ATM is broken, don’t use the ATM, go somewhere else.
  • If there is more than one ATM, and a sign has been placed on one of the units saying it is out of service, go somewhere else – the sign could be an attempt to direct traffic to the machine where skimming equipment is installed.
  • Check the machine before putting your card in – is the card slot securely in the machine? Has anything been installed around the edges of the machine that could conceal a camera?  Is any glue or sticky substance around the key pad or card slot?
  • Always attempt to cover your hand when you enter your PIN so that if there is a camera, the numbers cannot be captured.
  • Watch your account activity and report any unauthorized credit or debit charges immediately.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Steven Masada and Norman Barbosa.


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