A Romanian man and a Russian woman have pleaded guilty to participating in an Internet scam that offered non-existent automobiles for sale and caused victims from across the United States to suffer losses of more than $4 million.
Corneliu Weikum, 38, a Romanian national who resides in the Federal
Republic of Germany, and Yulia Mishina-Heffron, 24, of Russia, each
pleaded guilty yesterday afternoon to two counts – one involving
smuggling bulk cash out of the United States, and another involving a
plot to commit wire and bank fraud.
Weikum and Mishina-Heffron pleaded guilty pursuant to cases brought
by the United States Attorney’s Offices in Los Angeles (which included
the conspiracy count) and Las Vegas (which included the bulk cash
According to court documents, between May 2007 and November 15, 2010,
Weikum and Mishina-Heffron participated in a scheme operated out of
Romania that advertised cars and other vehicles for sale on websites
that included eBay Motors, Auto Trader, Yahoo Auto, edmunds.com, and
Cragslist. After negotiating with members of the conspiracy in Romania,
victims of the scam were instructed to deposit the money for the cars
into bank accounts established at the direction of Weikum and
Mishina-Heffron. Associates withdrew the money and gave it to Weikum and
Mishina-Heffron, who would then smuggle the money out of the United
States in the form of cash and wire transfers.
On October 22, 2009, more than $1 million was seized from Weikum’s
luggage at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. On March 10,
2010, law enforcement seized $20,000 stuffed into stereo speakers that
Mishina-Heffron had attempted to ship to Germany.
The charges to which the defendants pleaded guilty carry a maximum
statutory sentence of 35 years imprisonment. However, the defendants
have entered into binding plea agreements that call upon the court to
sentence Weikum to 97 months in federal prison and Mishina-Heffron to 70
months imprisonment. As part of their plea agreements, the defendants
forfeited over $1.2 million in cash and agreed to pay restitution to the
victims of the crimes.