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Press Release

Three Individuals Arrested And Charged With Access Device Fraud As Part Of A Multi-District Operation

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California
California has reported the loss of over $22 million due EBT theft in the first quarter of 2024, theft which has robbed low-income California families of funds to buy food

OAKLAND – Three individuals were charged with the use of unauthorized access devices were filed this week, announced United States Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey and United States Secret Service (“USSS”) – San Francisco Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Shawn Bradstreet.

The three defendants—Petrica Mosneagu, 44; Ionut Sopirla, 38; and Virgil Tudorascu, 42, all of Romania—were charged with stealing Electronic Benefit Transfer (“EBT”) account information and making fraudulent cash withdrawals at ATMs using that stolen EBT information in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1029(a)(2). The defendants were arrested in a multi-district, USSS-led operation, which resulted in several arrests this week, including in the Southern District of California.

According to the public criminal complaints, law enforcement agencies have been investigating EBT theft across California for the past fourteen months. The complaints allege that the California Department of Social Services has identified that approximately $22.8 million has been stolen from victim EBT card beneficiaries from January to March 2024 in California, including in the Northern District of California. Most of these stolen funds have been obtained by unauthorized ATM withdrawals. Furthermore, the complaints allege that victims of the scheme are largely low-income families who depend on EBT benefits to buy food and other household necessities.

The complaints allege that the defendants fraudulently withdrew cash with “cloned” cards, which are debit cards, gift cards, or other devices with magnetic strips that have been encoded with information from legitimate EBT cards. The account holders’ account information was primarily “skimmed” at ATMs or point-of-sale terminals. Skimming devices recorded victim account holder account information on the magnetic strips and log their PINs through keypad overlays. Once skimmed, the victim account holders’ account information was then loaded onto blank or repurposed debit cards, which the defendants then used to withdraw cash or make purchases.

If convicted, each defendant face a maximum statutory sentence of ten years in prison on each charge. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

Defendants Mosneagu and Sopirla made their initial appearances Tuesday morning in Oakland and will appear for their detention hearings on April 10, 2024, before the Honorable Kandis A. Westmore. Defendant Tudorascu made his initial appearance Thursday morning and will also appear for his detention hearing on April 10, 2024.

Criminal complaints only allege that crimes have been committed, and each defendant must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexis James and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Glimcher are prosecuting these cases, with the help of Katie Turner and Kay Konopaske. These prosecutions are the result of an investigation by the USSS, California Department of Social Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), San Francisco Human Services Agency – Special Investigations Unit, Pleasant Hill PD, Richmond PD, Oakland PD, Berkeley PD, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, Romanian National Police, and U.S. Secret Service Bucharest.

Updated April 4, 2024