NEWARK, N.J. — Two Romanian natives residing in Queens, N.Y., pleaded guilty Wednesday to a scheme to steal account information from bank customers throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut by installing secret card-reading devices on ATMs.
The guilty plea resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Secret Service.
Ioan Leusca, aka "Ionel Spinu," 30, and Dezso Gyapias, aka "Valentin Folea," 29, each pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William J. Martini to separate charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. Leusca and Gyapias have been held without bail since their arrests Jan. 13.
According to court documents, Leusca and Gyapias admitted that they and their fellow conspirators installed skimmers and pinhole cameras at bank ATMs. The devices were installed on multiple ATMs in New Jersey and Connecticut. Each skimmer, an electronic device, would read and record identity and account information contained in the magnetic strip of a customer's ATM card. The pinhole camera secretly recorded bank customers' keystrokes as they entered their personal identification numbers. Leusca and Gyapias admitted that they and other conspirators went back to collect the devices containing the recorded information.
Leusca and Gyapias acknowledged that after the stolen customer account and identification information had been loaded onto blank ATM cards, they and their conspirators used those cards to steal $985,000 from Citibank ATMs in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
The charges to which Leusca and Gyapias pleaded guilty arose from a larger investigation into a skimming scheme that targeted customers in the tri-state area in 2012 and early 2013. Together, the schemes cost a number of banks a total of $5 million in cash stolen from their customer accounts.
Of the eight others charged in relation to the wider scheme, all Romanian nationals who lived in Queens, seven are in custody. The leaders of the scheme, Marius Vintila, 31, and Bogdan Radu, 30, were charged by criminal complaint July 10. Vintila and Radu designed and created the actual skimming devices and pinhole cameras and recruited individuals, including Leusca and Gyapias, to install them on bank ATMs. Vintila used an alias to rent multiple self-storage units, in which he stored the contents of an entire skimming operation, including skimming devices, pinhole cameras, super glue, tape, SD cards, batteries, computers, molds, fraudulent ATM cards and cash proceeds.
Radu taught co-conspirators how to install the skimming devices, and Radu used an alias to move skimming devices and cash proceeds overseas.
Other charged conspirators, including Constantin Ginga, 53,Marius Cotiga, 35, Constantin Pendus, 30, Emil Revesz, 30, Florin Apetrei, 18 and another individual charged as "first name unknown, last name unknown," aka "Chioru," installed the devices designed by Vintila and Radu onto bank ATMs and used fraudulent ATM cards to steal millions of dollars. They used hats, jackets, scarves and sunglasses to disguise themselves while installing the devices and while using the cards to withdraw money.
Ginga, Cotiga, Leusca, Gyapias, Pendus, Revesz, Apetrei and Radu are in custody in New Jersey and being held without bail. Ginga previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft and awaits sentencing Dec. 18. On Sept. 24, Vintila was apprehended in Sweden and awaits extradition to the United States. The individual known as "Chioru" remains at large.
The bank fraud conspiracy charge to which Leusca and Gyapias pleaded guilty is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The aggravated identity theft charge carries a mandatory, consecutive penalty of two years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.
Their sentencing is currently scheduled for Feb. 20, 2014.
The charges and allegations against the other defendants charged in the pending complaints are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.