Two Romanian Nationals Charged for Roles in an International Online Auction Fraud Scheme
Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Brennan announced that two Romanian nationals were charged in a twelve-count indictment, unsealed in federal court today, stemming from their roles in an international criminal network, whose members engaged in a wide-ranging online auction fraud scheme that targeted victims in the Northern District of Ohio and elsewhere in the United States.
Costel Alecu, 37, of Bucharest, Romania, and Madalin Ghinea, 34, of Alexandria, Romania, are both charged in the indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit service marks, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of aggravated identity theft. Alecu and Ghinea were arrested by Romanian authorities in March of 2021.
The indictment alleges that beginning in July of 2008 through August of 2020, Alecu, Ghinea and others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, 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 $9 million USD.
To conduct their scheme, Alecu and other members of the conspiracy created accounts on various auction websites to post advertisements for goods that did not exist. In certain cases, Alecu and others allegedly 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. Furthermore, it is alleged that the group used a number of fraudulent online communication templates and email addresses intended 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.
The indictment states that around August of 2014, Alecu and Ghinea exchanged a number of these fraudulent communication templates and the personal identifying information of their victims for use in the scheme to defraud.
Alecu and others allegedly used a network of money launderers and money mules to obtain payment from their victims and transfer the funds overseas.
Additionally, the indictment alleges that Alecu and other members of the group 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.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
If convicted, the Defendant’s sentence will be determined by the Court after review of factors unique to this case, including the Defendant’s prior criminal record, if any, the Defendant’s role in the offense, and the characteristics of the violation.
In all cases, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum, and in most cases, it will be less than the maximum.
This case was investigated by the Cleveland FBI with help from authorities in Romania. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Duncan T. Brown and Brian S. Deckert of the Northern District of Ohio and Senior Counsel Timothy Flowers of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.