BOISE, Idaho — A Romanian native was sentenced Wednesday to more than three years in prison for wire fraud, use of an altered passport and improper entry by an alien following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Andrei Mirel, 34, was sentenced to 38 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge also ordered Mirel to pay mandatory restitution of $8,318 to three Idaho victims of the fraud scheme and general restitution of $200,780 to 71 other victims across the United States. Mirel pleaded guilty to the charges July 27.
According to the plea agreement, Mirel admitted to five criminal counts. The counts included entering the country illegally, using an altered Netherlands passport at a local bank for identification in order to accomplish wire fraud, and defrauding purchasers who used Western Union to wire him money for non-existent vehicles. Mirel admitted that after obtaining money from each of these fraudulent transactions, he would wire-transfer the money to European bank accounts, after which it became untraceable. Three of the fraud victims reside in Idaho; however, Mirel and his unidentified European associates used the same scheme to defraud 71 other victims residing in many other states. Including incidental expenses and the cost of the wire transfers, the total loss to the 74 victims exceeded $200,000.
"This was a heartless scheme to defraud many people desperately short on cash and desperately needing to purchase inexpensive and reliable vehicles," said Idaho U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson. "This type of scheme is not uncommon. Individuals purchasing vehicles sight unseen over the Internet run the risk of dealing with unscrupulous criminals on the other end of a telephone call. Caution should be used to make sure you are dealing with legitimate automobile dealers, or to make payment only with the vehicle in hand and the title duly endorsed."
"Like many scam artists, this defendant falsely believed the anonymity of cyberspace would shield his crimes from detection," said Leigh Winchell, the special agent in charge who oversees ICE HSI's enforcement activities in Idaho. "Homeland Security Investigations is focused on identifying and bringing to justice individuals who seek to exploit the Internet to further their criminal schemes."