Several key players in a Romanian fraud syndicate have been sentenced for their crimes in Lexington courtrooms, wrapping up a years-long investigation into a case which made more than $2.7 million through scamming Americans.
The scheme took advantage of victims who thought they were buying cars online via Amazon, AutoTrader, eBay and the like with official-looking documents to prove it. But the products did not exist.
In 2014, the illicit syndicate employed an anonymous individual in Kentucky who laundered the money for the criminals who lived thousands of miles away, according to investigators.
The Kentuckian was confronted about his involvement, and converted into a confidential source by investigators, which helped accumulate evidence while the informant cleaned millions of dollars with an end game of dozens of arrests.
Of 20 defendants listed throughout four indictments, all were part of an organization dubbed the "Alexandria Online Auction Fraud Network" by investigators. The network has been in operation since 2013, according to court records.
Within this network was a hierarchy of power, led by the "high-level manager" Bogdan-Stefan Popescu, who pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering conspiracy charge on June 11, 2020, and was forced to forfeit money and two homes. Popescu owned a car wash called Spalatorie Auto Red Link located in Bucharest, Romania, according to court records.
In 2022, Popescu was sentenced to about seven-and-a-half years in prison with no supervised release and a $100 special assessment. Popescu was ordered to pay $2.6 million in restitution along with other co-conspirators in the case.
Below Popescu was Andrei-Catalin Stoica, noted as a "mid-to-high level" manager in the operation, according to court records. Stoica owned Design Plast PVC Usi Si Ferestre, a door and window company with an office in Romania, and Design Plast Menuiserie, a carpentry company located in Belgium.
Stoica also pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering conspiracy, and the other charges were dropped in a plea agreement. He was sentenced to about five-and-a-half years in prison for the charge, and will owe more than $2.1 million in restitution. Following the completion of his sentence, he will be taken back to Romania, according to court records.
Alexandru Ion was below Popescu and Stoica, as a part of a group of eight other "mid-level" managers alongside Aurel Grama, Liviu-Sorin Nedelcu, Ionut Ciobanu, Marius-Dorin Cernat, Stefan-Alexandru Paiusi, Eugen-Alin Badea, Cristisor Olteanu and Adrian Mitan, according to court records.
Ion was sentenced to almost five years in prison, and ordered to pay $218,510 in restitution.
Prosecutors say that all involved in the scheme played their part in taking advantage of victims who thought they were buying cars online via Amazon, AutoTrader, eBay and others with documents that appeared to be legitimate to prove it.
The Kentucky launderer was employed alongside other money laundering agents such as Austin Edward Nedved of Massachusetts, Dimitrious Antoine Brown of Georgia or Florida, Rashawd Lamar Tulloch of Georgia and Andrew Gilbert Ybarra II of California, according to court records.
Beniam-Filip Ologeanu, of Romania, also took part in the money laundering, according to court documents.
Prosecutors say these men and others all took part in the extensive scheme to create believable documents, emails, receipts, customer service representatives, and payment confirmation statements.
This recurring scheme repeatedly caused individuals and families to lose thousands of dollars, according to court records.
One victim, listed as N.M. in court documents, said he lost $3,000 to the Alexandria Network when trying to buy a car from someone who claimed to be a mother, selling their dead son's car.
"I was 19 years old at the time and did not know anyone. I needed a car because California and Camp Pendleton are very big places, so I went online and started looking for inexpensive used vehicles. Being newly married and having a 1-year old little girl alone in Nebraska, money was not something we had very much of. While on the website Craigslist I found an ad for a black 2004 Chevy Impala SS listed for $1,500.00," N.M. said in court documents.
N.M. said he soon received an email from what he believed to be the mother of the vehicle's owner. "She" stated her son passed away and thus the reason for the low price on the vehicle. Sympathetic, the victim said he understood and believed why she would want to sell the car for such a low price.
According to court documents, N.M. then described in detail the numerous steps required to remit payment. Afterwards, N.M. received an email from what looked like eBay with a receipt for their purchase.
Being overly excited about buying such a nice car for so little, N.M. said in court records that he overlooked the obvious signs of a scam. Members of the conspiracy convinced N.M. to pay an additional $1,500.00, and when N.M. learned from the real eBay that he was a victim of fraud, N.M. did "the hardest part of the whole ordeal."
"I had to call my wife who was all alone with our baby girl and tell her that $3000.00 which was all of our savings was now gone. I felt I had failed as a father and as a husband, because I had just lost all of our money," he said in court documents.
Almost all involved in the scheme have had their cases closed, according to court records. Victor-Aurel Gramma, Cristisor Olteanu, Beniamin-Filip Ologeanu, and Rashawd Lamar Tulloch still have open cases.
Badea admitted to laundering $35,500 with the federal government's confidential informant in Kentucky. He was sentenced to just over three years in prison and ordered to pay $89,046 in restitution, according to court records.
Arvat was sentenced to more than two years in prison and ordered to pay $85,000 in restitution, according to court records. He'd be slated for release in June of next year. He'll be deported back to Romania once he's released.
Dobrica, 28, also admitted to distributing funds. He was ordered to serve more than three years in prison but was also given credit for time served since Dec. 11, 2018. He was deported back to Romania.
Nedved, 29, a money launderer in the scheme, got eight years in prison and is ordered to pay $365,016 in restitution to victims.
Nedelcu was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison and was ordered to return to Romania after his sentence was completed, according to court records. He was also ordered to pay $31,900 in restitution.
Cernat was sentenced to more than four years in prison at the Ashland Federal Correctional Institution. He will be returned to Romania at the end of his prison sentence. He was ordered to pay $91,602 in restitution, according to court records.
Ionut Ciobauu pleaded guilty and took a plea agreement to racketeering influence in corrupt organization charges and was sentenced to about four years imprisonment and ordered to pay $34,100 in restitution.
Stefan-Alexandru Paiusi pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal in 2020 and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
Adrian Mitan pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement to a RICO conspiracy and was sentenced to nearly 12 years imprisonment to run concurrently and ordered to pay $675,000 in restitution.
Vlad-Calin Nistor pleaded guilty and accepted a plea deal for charges of a RICO conspiracy. He was ordered to pay $91,200 in restitution and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Rossen Iossifov was found guilty by a jury for a count of RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay $2,642,297.43.
Dimitrious Antoine Brown pleaded guilty to RICO conspiracy as part of a plea deal and was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison, and three years supervised release. His restitution is to be determined, according to court documents.
Andrew Gilbert Ybarra II pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and sentenced to almost four years in prison, two years supervised release and ordered to pay $350,000 in restitution.