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Financial Crimes

Spanish member of Romania-based Web fraud ring indicted

SEATTLE – A 47-year-old Spanish national who allegedly scammed online auto buyers has been indicted on wire fraud charges by a Seattle federal grand jury.

Juan Carlos de la Cruz Piote and his co-conspirators' scheme was uncovered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the FBI. The defendants are accused of using foreign passports and various identities to open multiple bank accounts that were used to receive victims' money stolen through their fake online sales. The indictment alleges that between February and August 2011, the conspirators took in nearly $1 million.

According to court records, the ring used legitimate websites like Craigslist.org and AutoTrader.com to advertise luxury cars, boats and recreational vehicles for sale. The schemers would then negotiate sales with buyers and have them send funds to what the ring claimed were escrow accounts, where the money would be safe until the transaction was complete. The advertised vehicles were never delivered and the money was stolen. Investigators say they lulled their victims by creating counterfeit PayPal documents and web pages and had some victims pay through as service they created called "Amazon Payments."

Cruz Piote was arrested July 22 in New York when he arrived from Romania. He is expected to be transferred to Washington to face arraignment on the indictment. One member of the ring has already pleaded guilty to wire fraud. In September 2012, Emilian Madalin Nita was sentenced to 42 months in prison.

The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington is prosecuting the case.