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Press Release

Seven Charged in Theft of California Benefits for Low-Income Families

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California


SAN DIEGO – Seven people were arrested and charged this week in connection with the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in public-assistance benefits from low-income families that need the funds to pay for food, housing and other necessities.

The defendants were taken into custody by a U.S. Secret Service-led task force as part of a three-day effort to crack down on this devastating and growing fraud in which California benefits are drained from recipients’ accounts almost immediately after the funds are dispersed by the state, typically early in the month. A simultaneous operation netted three arrests in the Northern District of California.

Marian Dogaru, Catalan Craciun, Vasile Ionita, Andrei Cristian Geangasau, Domitru Ducila Unguru, Roberto Calin and Razvan Iulian Gaspar are charged with stealing Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) account information and making fraudulent cash withdrawals at ATMs using that stolen EBT information.

According to the complaints, between June 2022 and February 2024, over $181 million has been stolen from EBT beneficiaries in California. Most of these stolen funds have come from unauthorized ATM withdrawals.  The complaints also allege that victims of the scheme are largely low-income families who depend on EBT benefits to buy food and other household necessities.

“EBT fraud literally takes food out of the mouths of children,” said U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath. “Parents who don’t know they’ve been targeted get to the grocery checkout and discover their EBT cards have been wiped clean.  We are taking proactive steps to prevent this appalling crime and punish those who take advantage of vulnerable people.”

“EBT fraud continues to be an issue in California and throughout the nation,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael Peck, U.S. Secret Service Office of Investigations. “The U.S. Secret Service will continue to investigate and arrest those responsible for EBT fraud as we seek to disrupt their networks and protect our most vulnerable communities.”

According to charging documents, here’s how the fraud works:

The Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federally funded assistance program designed to help low-income individuals and families purchase food. In California, SNAP public assistance benefits are distributed through CalFresh and loaded to an account that a qualified recipient can access by means of an access card, similar to a debit or credit card, called the California Advantage Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Card.

The Department of Health and Human Services administers the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, which provides states with money to support low-income families with children. In California, TANF grant funds are used to operate CalWORKS.  Families that apply and qualify for ongoing CalWORKS assistance receive money each month to help pay for housing, food, and other necessary expenses.  Like CalFresh, CalWORKS benefits are distributed through the California Advantage EBT card.

To access these benefits, recipient swipe their card through a point-of-sale terminal, or insert it into an ATM, and provide their Personal Identification Number (PIN). 

According to the complaints, the U.S. Secret Service has gathered evidence indicating members of what appear to be one or more criminal enterprises are stealing California EBT account information by installing skimmers on point-of-sale terminals and inside ATMs, often in communities with higher concentrations of public benefit recipients. The skimmed data is then often re-encoded onto the magnetic strips of cards that members of the conspiracy use to make unauthorized withdrawals and purchases.

These re-encoded cards are sometimes referred to as “cloned” cards. Cloned cards can be a blank white plastic card, or another debit, credit, or gift card. Cloned cards may have names or numbers embossed on the physical face of the card. A common feature of cloned cards is that the account number encoded on the card’s magnetic strip will not match the number embossed on the card’s face. To facilitate the use of the stolen EBT benefits, members of the scheme will commonly put stickers bearing the account’s PIN on the physical cards, or access devices, that are swiped at a point-of-sale terminal, along with the account balance.

U.S. Attorney McGrath thanked the many law enforcement partners whose work and dedication made this operation a success: The U.S. Secret Service, California Highway Patrol, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, Oceanside Police Department, California Department of Social Services, Homeland Security Investigations, San Diego District Attorney’s Office, San Diego Police Department, San Diego Sheriff’s Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. 

If you or someone you know has had your EBT benefits stolen, San Diego County’s Department of Health & Human Services Agency requires that the theft be reported within 10 days.  More information for San Diego County victims is available at:  

DEFENDANT                                   Case Number                         Age                Hometown                

Marian Dogaru                                    24MJ1315                               38                        Barlad City, Romania

Catalan Craciun                                  24MJ1234                               36                        Barlad, Romania

Vasile Ionita                                       24 MJ1289                              22                        Bucharest, Romania

Andrei Cristian Geangasau                 24 MJ1289                              23                        Bucharest, Romania

Domitru Ducila Unguru                      24MJ1298                               20                        Craiova, Romania

Roberto Calin                                     24MJ1298                               19                        Rome, Italy

Razvan Iulian Gaspar                         24MJ1345                               33                        Targu Mures City,                                                                                                                                          Romania


Use of Unauthorized Access Devices – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1029(a)(2) (All Defendants)

Maximum penalty: Ten years in prison and $250,000 fine

Possession of Access Device-Making Equipment – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1029(a)(4) (Dogaru, Ionita, Geangasu, Unguru, Calin, Gaspar)

Maximum penalty: Fifteen years in prison and $250,000 fine


U.S. Secret Service’s Southern California Cyber Fraud Task Force

San Diego District Attorney’s Office

California Highway Patrol

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General

California Department of Social Services

San Diego Police Department

San Diego Sheriff’s Department

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General

Homeland Security Investigations

Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office

United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California

United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California

 *The charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty. 



Media Relations Director Kelly Thornton (619) 546-9726 or

Updated April 4, 2024

Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: CAS24-0304-Dogaru