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Financial Crimes
02/21/2014

Queens men sentenced for $1 million ATM skimming scheme

NEWARK, N.J. — Two Romanian natives now residing in Queens, N.Y., were sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison Thursday for their roles in a scheme that stole $985,000 from bank customers throughout New Jersey, New York and Connecticut by installing secret card-reading devices on ATMs that stole account information when customers swiped their cards. The prison sentences follow an investigation by the Newark field office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Secret Service.

Ioan Leusca, 30, aka Ionel Spinu, and Dezso Gyapias, 29, aka Valentin Folea, were each sentenced to 57 months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge William J. Martini. In addition to prison time, both men were ordered to serve two years supervised release and to pay $985,000 in restitution.

Leusca and Gyapias previously pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Both men have been held without bail since their arrests Jan. 13, 2013, after being charged by New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.

According to court documents, Leusca and Gyapias admitted 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 as part of their guilty pleas they and other conspirators went back to collect the devices containing the recorded information, loaded the stolen customer account and identification information onto blank ATM cards, then used those cards to steal $985,000 from Citibank ATMs in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

The charges leading to their sentences 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 $5 million in cash stolen from customer accounts.

Eight other individuals, all Romanian nationals who lived in Queens, are charged in connection to the wider scheme. Seven of those individuals are now in custody. The alleged leaders of the scheme, Marius Vintila, 31, and Bogdan Radu, 31, designed and created the actual skimming devices and pinhole cameras and recruited individuals, including Leusca and Gyapias, to install them on bank ATMs.

Vintila allegedly 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 allegedly taught co-conspirators how to install the skimming devices, and used an alias to move skimming devices and cash proceeds overseas.

Vintila and Radu were charged by criminal complaint July 10, 2013.

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,” allegedly installed the devices designed by Vintila and Radu onto bank ATMs and used fraudulent ATM cards to steal millions of dollars. They then 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 being held without bail. Ginga previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft and awaits sentencing Feb. 26. On Sept. 24, 2013, Vintila was apprehended in Sweden and extradited to the United States earlier this month.

Vintila was charged in a six-count indictment issued Tuesday with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to possess 15 or more counterfeit access devices, possession of 15 or more counterfeit access devices, conspiracy to possess access device-making equipment, and possession of access device-making equipment. The individual known as “Chioru” remains at large.