Three Members Of International Cyber Fraud Ring Extradited From Romania To The United States
Romanian nationals Cristea Mircea, Ion Pieptea, and Nicolae Simion will make their first appearance before United States District Judge Edward R. Korman later today following their extradition to the United States from Romania. The defendants are charged with participating in a sophisticated multimillion dollar cyber fraud scheme that targeted consumers on U.S.-based Internet marketplace websites such as eBay.com. Their 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 Mircea, Pieptea and Simion.1 The Bucharest Appeals Court ordered the extraditions of Mircea, Pieptea, and Simion on February 2, 2013. The defendants were subsequently transported to the Eastern District of New York and arraigned on March 27, 2013.
The extraditions were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and George C. Venizelos, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office
As alleged in the indictment, the defendants and their coconspirators saturated Internet marketplace websites, such as eBay.com, 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 indictment further describes how, after the purported 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 wire transfer instructions. However, these invoices were also fraudulent – the members of the conspiracy used counterfeit service marks in designing the invoices so that they would appear identical to communications from legitimate payment services. The fraudulent invoices directed the buyers to send money to American bank accounts that had been opened by foreign nationals in the United States, known as “arrows.” Finally, the “arrows” would collect the illicit proceeds and send them to the defendants in Europe by wire transfer and other methods. For example, the “arrows” forwarded defendant Pieptea $18,000 cash in fraud proceeds hidden inside hollowed-out audio speakers.
According to court filings, the defendants and their coconspirators allegedly defrauded their victims of at least $2 million during the course of the conspiracy. Notwithstanding the scope of the fraud, however, one of the coconspirators boasted, in a recorded conversation, that “criminals will not be extradited from Romania to the U.S.A. . . . it will never happen.”
Each defendant is charged with conspiracy to commit substantives offenses against the United States, wire fraud, and money laundering. The defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment on each count of conviction.
“These three defendants allegedly reached across the globe to defraud Americans, pretending to be legitimate online vendors and payment providers. In reality, they were con men with a computer. The defendants’ extraditions to the United States should make clear that our efforts to protect Internet consumers do not stop at our borders,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “Thanks to our strong international partnerships, the notion that cybercriminals will never be extradited to the United States is merely a criminal’s fantasy.” Ms. Lynch extended her grateful appreciation to the FBI for its assistance.
The Romanian government, particularly the Ministry of Justice, the Romanian Internal Intelligence Service, and the Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, provided significant assistance and support during the investigation, arrest, and extradition of the defendants. The Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs worked with its counterparts in Romania to effect the extraditions, and the U.S. Marshals Service coordinated and transported the defendants to the United States.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Cristina Posa, Nadia Shihata. and Claire Kedeshian, and Trial Attorney Carol Sipperly of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section.
1 The charges against the defendants are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.