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Financial Crimes

Romanian man sentenced in south Texas to 8 years in federal prison for wire fraud

Ordered to pay $562,240 in restitution

VICTORIA, Texas — A Romanian man was sentenced Monday to eight years in federal prison following his conviction on 33 counts of wire fraud in an Internet fraud scheme.

This sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas, and Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Doru Gabriel Trifu, 29, was sentenced to 96 months in prison by Senior U.S. District Judge John Rainey to be followed by three years supervised release. Trifu was further ordered to pay $562,240 in restitution. In handing down the sentence, Judge Rainey noted this was the most extensive fraud scheme he had ever seen, and that the scheme played to someone's allegiances and loyalties to the military. Trifu is not a U.S. citizen, and is expected to face deportation proceedings following his release from prison.

Trifu, a Romanian non-immigrant residing in Orangevale, Calif., was part of the fraud scheme in which consumer items were listed for sale via the Internet. Individuals attempting to make purchases were instructed to send money via MoneyGram to an escrow agent who accepted the funds, completed the transaction, and was supposed to deliver the item. However, after the buyer electronically transferred the money, the purchased items were never delivered.

"This case serves as an important and timely 'Cyber Monday' reminder that consumers need to be careful when shopping online," said Moskowitz.

During trial, the government presented videos and numerous surveillance photographs taken from Wal-Mart stores across Texas, Mississippi and Alabama where the fraudulent transactions occurred.

Testimony was provided by several victims who described how they were told they were purchasing an item from a U.S. serviceman who was about to deploy to the Middle East; they were told to use a third-party broker to complete the transaction.

An HSI special agent also testified and identified a pattern of about 230 fraudulent transactions between March 2011 and February 2012 using two fake U.S. passport numbers. Over the course of the scheme, the amount of identified fraud totaled more than $567,000.

Trifu has been in custody since his November 2012 arrest in California where he will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lance Watt, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.