Bogus Online Auto Auction Participant Indicted For Bank Fraud
Defendant Charged For His Alleged “Money Mule” Role In Scheme That Defrauded 117 Buyers And Netted Nearly $2 Million
SAN JOSE – A federal grand jury indicted Ionut Ganea with three counts of bank fraud in a scheme to defraud consumers with fake online automobile auction advertisements, announced United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan.
According to the indictment, Ionut Ganea, 28, a Romanian national last known to be in Romania, conspired to defraud consumers by posting fraudulent automobile auction advertisements on multiple automobile websites. The automobile auction advertisements contained information typical of legitimate auctions, including photographs of the automobiles for sale. The indictment alleges, however, that the automobiles advertised for sale were not owned by the purported sellers. The purported sellers thereafter communicated with interested buyers through online messaging platforms and induced them to place bids on the auctions. After a victim-buyer “won” an auction and wired payment to the seller’s bank account as instructed, the vehicle was never delivered.
The indictment alleges Ganea acted as a “money mule” in the scheme, collecting the illegally obtained money and sending it to the other participants in the fraud. Ganea used fake identities to set up bank accounts in the United States with legitimate banking institutions. The bank accounts were used to receive the wire transfers of funds from the victim-buyers in the fraudulent auctions. Ganea then allegedly withdrew the funds from the accounts.
Between December 2019 and September 2020, the indictment alleges Ganea opened at least 74 bank accounts in eight banks across the country while using 28 fake names and fraudulent passports from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Latvia. According to the indictment, 117 individual victim-buyers wired nearly $2 million dollars to these accounts, and Ganea withdrew more than $1.8 million of those funds.
The federal indictment charges Ganea with three counts of bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344(2). The maximum statutory sentence for each violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344(2) is 30 years in prison, a fine up to $1,000,000 or twice the gross gain or loss amount, and five years of supervised release following prison. However, any sentence following a conviction would be imposed by a court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
Ganea remains at large. The investigation continues.
The charges contained in the criminal indictment are only allegations. As in any criminal case, the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
Assistant United States Attorney Anne Hsieh is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Laurie Worthen. The prosecution was the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.