Article published in the Ziarul de Iasi Newspaper
November 26, 2005
Iasi City was yesterday the scene of an operation to annihilate the largest Internet fraud network in Eastern Europe. Police officers of the Iasi Organized Crime Department captured a group of youngsters, between 21 and 30 years old, who were capable to swindle over 500,000 Euros from American clients. 11 young men, students or engineers, from various regions of the country, succeeded in giving headaches even to the FBI, which had been beset by complaints of people over the Pacific. The "Electronic Thieves" used to sell fictive very expensive cars and electronic devices through the "eBay" Website, the number of the swindled foreigners being of over 300. The group used to act simultaneously in various cities across Romania. Police officers in Iasi intercepted the network in May, when the group rented an apartment in Iasi. Even though magistrates in Iasi ordered yesterday the youngsters arrest for the next 29 days, the network head (H Luis) succeeded to get away. This happened because, before judges had the time to decide, this young man’s arrest warrant had expired.
The group began its activities in June 2003. Even though they were coming from different regions of the country, their computer “gifts” brought them together and offered them the key to a new way to make money in Romania: fake bids on the Internet. The “Brain” of the "Organization" that gave headaches to international bodies was Aurelian Sanduleasa, from Alexandria town. People directly subordinated to him were: Marius Nicolae Gheorghe (25 years old, of Braila town), Nicusor Sandu (25 years old, of Braila town), Roberto Ionut Gobiaja (24 years old, of Bucharest City), Mihai Chirilov (25 years old, of Bucharest City), Cosmin Sergiu Munteanu (25 years, of Tirgu Jiu town), Florin Bogdan Cristian (25 years old, of Panciu town), Laurentiu Vasile Feroiu (26 years old, of Tirgu Jiu town), Calin Radu Caloiu (24 years old, of Pucioasa town), George Rafael Sandulescu, (21 years old, of Bucharest City) and Gabriel Ghinda (28 years old, of Alexandria town). According to details offered about the internet thieves by defense attorney Bogdan Tufeanu, "Most of them had met during their university studies. Those in Alexandria were neighbors. One of my clients, Ghinda, is a transportation engineer. Most of the others are students, one in the 1st year of the Bucharest Cybernetics Faculty, while others are in the last years of the Bucharest Automation and Computer Faculty."
In order to lose their trace, network members traveled to various countries to post their announcements. The selected countries were: Greece, in Athens, Germany, in Düsseldorf and Hamburg, as well as France, in Paris. There, they used to access the Internet, especially the well known "eBay" website (international electronic market), where they listed various fictitious products. 80% of the swindled people are Americans.
In order to post their fictitious announcements, they used illegally accessed identities and accounts of legal “eBay” users. Moreover, the "cybernetics specialists" could also offer to potential clients guarantees, also fake, posted on the "Secure Trade" website. By accessing this website, buyers were convinced that the persons with whom they were negotiating were genuine Americans, who had deposited a 20,000 USD guarantee to the website in case transactions were not concluded in a proper way. Sales like this had become a non-stop job for the 11 young men. Cautious, the internet guys established “headquarters” in various localities of Romania, where they rented or bought apartments, equipped with several top performance computers. This is how, in May 2005, the young men established their headquarters in Iasi, for two and a half months, where police officers of the Iasi Organized Crime Department intervened. “A total of 300 people have been swindled. So far, some 61 people, 80% of them being Americans, have already filed complaints. Apparently, activities of these young men, carried out right under the nose of the Romanian authorities, have been monitored for several months by the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). Once they were warned by their American colleagues, police officers in Iasi found enough details to remake the “script” of a high proportion fraud.
Law enforcement officers descended in force in five locations. For example, before coming to operate in Iasi, the group had had a stop in Brasov City. There, they rented an apartment, and equipped it with 10 laptops, Zapp modems and 25 cell phones. The young people had prepared an inventive plan (in their opinion), in order to avoid any possible wiretapping. They used rechargeable phone cards, with phone numbers known just by them. In September this year, they raised anchor and went to Constanta City, where they rented another apartment, of a luxury hard to imagine. Simultaneous descents of the police in five locations of Constanta and Bucharest, on September 24, at 6:00 a.m., were the finishing stroke to the network. According to details offered by investigators, "The police arrested them after descents in force in the locations where they were acting. Entrance doors were equipped with security devices, like those of banks. They resisted to arresting.” Also, they explained to us why the case remains under the jurisdiction of the BCCO and of the Iasi Organized Crime and Terrorism Offences Investigation Service (SIICOT), even though the electronic thieves gad changed their location: "We handled the case from the very beginning and our presence was mandatory in any area where the 11 young men operated.", as stated by one of the Organized Crime Brigade members.
"At the age of 26, he had a ultra-central apartment in Bucharest and a Mercedes Benz”
Law enforcement investigations revealed also the way in which they were doing financial frauds, through which they accessed the obtained money. Aurelian Sanduleasa was the “manager" of data referring to successfully concluded transactions (bids and accounts where money was received). "A computerized octopus, consisting of persons who have not been identified yet, used to aggregate all these data. By using forged identity documents or Western Union accomplices in these countries, they accessed and collected big amounts of money, which they brought to Romania and handed over to Aurelian Sanduleasa", as investigators explained in detail to us. Apparently, as a rule, money was brought to Romania by a courier, once in two weeks or earlier, depending on the amount. In stupor, investigators discovered that, as a result of these frauds, the 11 individuals had gathered a “rather good” income, reaching the huge amount of over 500,000 euros, meaning approximately 17,5 billion Romanian lei. "Imagine how it feels like having an ultra-central apartment and a few Mercedes cars at the age of 26", said a police officer, who was shocked. The obtained money was reinvested in land and luxury cars. In fact, searches revealed also a few “petty things” of the network: 12 laptops, over 150 million Romanian lei, about 12,000 euros, 300 USD, 120 pounds and 830 Italian liras.
The network head was set free because his arrest warrant had expired
Yesterday morning, all the 11 individuals were brought before the Iasi Tribunal, and prosecution requested their arrest. This happened after both the defendants and their defense attorneys had a sleepless night, at the precinct. Due to the high load of evidence, judges continued to hear individually the 9 defendants brought before them in the morning, until late at night. At 12:30 at noon, the network head was unfettered because his arrest warrant had expired. His defense attorney Dumitru Radulescu, lawyer of the Teleorman County Bar, explained that “This is a procedure flaw.” Police officers could do nothing but watch Aurelian Sanduleasa while he was leaving the courtroom. Sanduleasa did not come back until deliberations were finalized. At the same time, the another defendant’s arrest warrant, Marius Gheorghe, was to expire at about 6:00 pm. Finally, judges decided that the offences committed by the 9 individuals were a social threat and ordered issuance of arrest warrants for the next 29 days. For other two defendants who could not be retained by police officers, judges decided issuance of arrest warrants in their absence. One of the defense attorneys, Bogdan Tufeanu, expressed his indignation against the court decision: "Procedures allow this, due to the existence of evidence and of two assistant witnesses. All the 9 detained defendants, who appeared in court, had a cooperative attitude and admitted the facts they committed. I cannot understand the court’s attitude while there are robbers or pimps tried without being arrested." Hearings closed at about 9:00 pm. According to a defense attorney, hearings have been difficult because most of the evidence was in English and an authorized translator/interpreter did not attend hearings. All the defense attorneys of the arrested defendants said that they will file appeals. (Geanina JINARU, Dan MAXIM)
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