Sixteen people have been charged in an alleged massive electronic benefit transfer fraud scheme in which funds were siphoned off that were intended for families in need, Los Angeles County District Attorney George GascÃ³n announced Tuesday.
Prosecutors say the case involves the theft of private account information of California EBT card holders, the creation of illegal, cloned cards with victims’ account information and the withdrawal of large cash amounts from those accounts at ATMs. That left legitimate card holders without funds in their accounts when they would later try to make purchases, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
“Stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars intended to feed children and families is nothing short of disgusting,” GascÃ³n said in a statement announcing the charges. “Let this be a warning to those who wrongly believe they can steal from the taxpayers of California without consequence that we will work with businesses and law enforcement to identify and stop these organized criminal operations.”
Those charged are: Nicolae Petrache, 48; Dumitri Florin, 47; Stefan Marin, 46; Marius Gavrilescu and Eduard Bobol, both 45; Cristian Moldova Remus, 43; Viorel Luchian, 41; Nikoli Kostaki, 35; Andreas Graagand, 34; Anca Cretu, 33; Stefan Gunar, 32, Fabi Marconi, 30; Andrei Birau and Nistea Ionutflorin, both 29; and Mayra Cardona and Antonio Bergomi, both 28.
All of the defendants pleaded not guilty Tuesday and were released on electronic monitoring, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
The charges stemmed from an investigation by the Southern California High Tech Task Force, which includes the District Attorney’s Office’s Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Crimes Section, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Fraud and Cyber Crimes Unit, and the Los Angeles Police Department’s Commercial Crimes Division, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General.
Officials also seized $130,000 in cash and more than 300 cloned EBT cards with an estimated value of $400,000, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
The task force also worked in conjunction with the California Department of Social Services, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services and numerous financial institutions, including Bank of America’s Global Protective Services Team.