Working with international law enforcement in the U.K., Canada, Romania, and the Czech Republic, the U.S. Department of Justice has issued arrest warrants for seven individuals said to have been involved in a multimillion dollar scam that targeted Internet marketplace websites.
Acting on provisional arrest requests made by the United States, Romanian law enforcement arrested Emil Butoi, Aurel Cojocaru, Nicolae Ghebosila, Cristea Mircea, Ion Pieptea, and Nicolae Simion. Another defendant, Albanian national Fabian Meme, is already incarcerated in the Czech Republic. The Department of Justice will seek to extradite them for trial.
According to the DOJ’s charges, the defendants were responsible for placing ads on domains such as eBay.com, Cars.com, AutoTrader.com, and CycleTrader.com, for vehicles generally priced in the $10,000 to $45,000 range. Unbeknownst to the buyers, however, the merchandise did not exist. The so-called sellers, who worked for the defendants, corresponded with the victim buyers by e-mail, sending fraudulent certificates of title and other information designed to lure the victims into parting with their money.
Sometimes, they pretended to sell cars from non-existent auto dealerships in the United States and even created phony websites for these fictitious dealerships. The defendants duped victims into sending tens of thousands of dollars for non-existent vehicles, including Lexus, Audi, Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Toyota, Mercedes, Porsche, and BMW cars; Big Dog Mastiff and Ninja motorcycles; a Fleetwood Storm motor home; and boats.
As part of the scheme alleged in the complaint, defendants Cojocaru, Meme, Butoi, and others produced high-quality fake passports so that foreign national co-conspirators in the United States, known as “arrows,” could use the passports as identification to open American bank accounts.
After the fake sellers reached an agreement with the victim buyers, they would often e-mail them invoices purporting to be from Amazon Payments, PayPal, or other online payment services, with wire transfer instructions. However, these invoices were also fraudulent.
The defendants and their co-conspirators used counterfeit service marks in designing the invoices so that they would appear identical to communications from legitimate payment services. The fraudulent invoices directed the buyers to send money to the American bank accounts that had been opened by the “arrows.”
According to the complaint, it is estimated that the defendants earned over $3 million from the fraudulent scheme.
All seven are charged with wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, Butoi, Cojocaru, Meme, Mircea, Pieptea, and Simion are also charged with passport fraud conspiracy.
If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 20 years’ on each of the wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy counts and 10 years’ imprisonment on the passport fraud conspiracy count.