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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Ohio

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, September 12, 2022

Romanian National Sentenced to Prison for Role in International Online Auction Fraud Scheme

AKRON - Costel Alecu, 38, of Bucharest, Romania, was sentenced to more than five and a half years in prison on September 7, 2022, by U.S. District Judge John R. Adams for his role in an international criminal network engaged in a wide-ranging online auction fraud scheme that targeted victims in the Northern District of Ohio and elsewhere in the United States.

In addition to the prison sentence, Alecu was ordered to pay a special assessment of $12,000 with restitution to be determined at a later date.

According to court documents, from July 2008 through August 2020, Alecu and codefendant Madalin Ghinea, 35, of Alexandria, Romania, were part of a conspiracy that devised a scheme to entice victims in the United States and elsewhere to purchase items online, including vehicles and other high-value items, that did not exist and to obtain the personal identifying information of their victims. 

As a result, victims suffered a combined loss of approximately $3 million USD. 

As part of the scheme, Alecu and other conspiracy members created accounts on various auction websites to post advertisements for goods that did not exist.  In certain cases, Alecu and others created and used fictitious websites, email addresses and other forms of communication that contained counterfeit trademark information designed to convince their victims that the advertisements were genuine. 

In addition, court documents state that the conspirators used a number of fraudulent online communication templates and email addresses to deceive victims into believing that they were communicating with legitimate business representatives when, in fact, they were speaking with a member of the conspiracy.

Court documents state that Alecu and others in the conspiracy then used a network of money launderers and money mules to obtain payment from their victims and transfer the funds overseas.  Alecu and the conspirators then used the stolen personal identifying information of their victims, credit cards and bank accounts to launder money overseas and fund the operation of their network by purchasing items such as virtual private networks and domain names.

Romanian authorities arrested Alecu and Ghinea in March 2021.

Madalin Ghinea was sentenced on June 1, 2022,  to more than four years in prison and ordered to pay $450,000.00 in restitution for his role in the scheme.

This case was investigated by the Cleveland FBI and IRS Criminal Investgation (CI) with help from authorities in Romania.  This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Duncan T. Brown and Brian S. Deckert of the Northern District of Ohio with assistance provided by the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section. 

Topic(s): 
Financial Fraud
Component(s): 
Contact: 
Daniel Ball Daniel.Ball@usdoj.gov
Updated September 13, 2022