A criminal complaint unsealed last week in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York charges Romanian nationals Emil Butoi, 34, Aurel Cojorcaru, 43, Nicolae Ghebosila, 43, Cristea Mircea, 30, Ion Pieptea, 36, and Nicolae Simion, 37, and Albanian national Fabian Meme, 42, each with one count of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of money laundering conspiracy. Butoi, Cojocaru, Meme, Mircea, Pieptea and Simion are also each charged with one count of passport fraud conspiracy.
Butoi, Cojorcaru, Ghebosila, Mircea, Pieptea and Simion were arrested
today. Meme is already incarcerated in the Czech Republic.
The government will seek the defendants’ extradition to the United States pursuant to the relevant international treaties.
As alleged in the complaint, the defendants were responsible for saturating Internet marketplace websites including eBay, Cars.com, AutoTrader.com and CycleTrader.com
with detailed advertisements for cars, motorcycles, boats and other
high-value items generally priced in the $10,000 to $45,000 range.
Unbeknownst to the buyers, however, the merchandise did not exist. The
defendants allegedly employed co-conspirators who corresponded with
victim buyers by email, sending fraudulent certificates of title and
other information designed to lure the victims into parting with their
money. Sometimes, the defendants allegedly pretended to sell cars from
nonexistent auto dealerships in the United States and even created phony
websites for these fictitious dealerships. In at least one transaction
involving Ghebosila, the “seller” allegedly pretended to be the widow
of an Iraq war veteran who was selling her family’s mobile home so that
she could care for her children. In other transactions, the defendants
allegedly duped victims into sending tens of thousands of dollars for
non-existent vehicles, including Lexus, Audi, Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge,
Toyota, Mercedes, Porsche and BMW cars; Big Dog Mastiff and Ninja
motorcycles; a Fleetwood Storm motor home; and boats.
As part of the scheme, Cojocaru, Meme, Butoi and others produced
high-quality fake passports so that foreign national co-conspirators in
the United States, known as “arrows,” could use the passports as
identification to open American bank accounts. The complaint alleges
that Cojocaru was recorded on video during the investigation displaying
new holograms that he was using to create more authentic-looking
According to the complaint, after the “sellers” reached an agreement
with the victim buyers, they would often email them invoices purporting
to be from Amazon
Payments, PayPal or other online payment services, with wire transfer
instructions. However, the defendants and their co-conspirators
allegedly used counterfeit service marks in designing the invoices so
that they would appear identical to communications from legitimate
payment services. The fraudulent invoices directed the buyers to send
money to the American bank accounts that had been opened by the
“arrows.” Finally, the arrows would allegedly collect the illicit
proceeds and send them to the defendants in Europe by wire transfer and
other methods. For example, the arrows allegedly forwarded Pieptea
$18,000 cash in fraud proceeds hidden inside hollowed-out audio
speakers. Other arrows allegedly used the proceeds to purchase
expensive Audemars Piguet watches, and then sent the watches to the
According to the complaint, it is estimated that the defendants earned over $3 million from the fraudulent scheme.
If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 20 years
in prison on the wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy
counts, and 10 years in prison on the passport fraud conspiracy count.
The charges in the complaint are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys
Cristina Posa, Vamshi Reddy and Claire Kedeshian of the U.S. Attorney’s
Office for the Eastern District of New York, and Trial Attorney Carol
Sipperly of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual
The offices of the FBI Legal Attachés in Romania, the Czech Republic,
the United Kingdom, Canada and Hungary were instrumental in
coordinating efforts with the United States’ international partners, and
the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Office of International
Affairs worked with its counterparts in these countries to effect the
provisional arrests and requests for mutual legal assistance, including
the forfeiture of illegal proceeds of these crimes. The Department of
Justice’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section also provided
assistance in the forfeitures.
The U.S. government thanks the Romanian government, in particular the
Ministry of Justice, the Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and
the Romanian Intelligence Service, for their collaborative efforts
throughout this long-term investigation, as well as the Czech National
Police, Hungarian National Bureau of Investigation, Metropolitan Police
Service in England, Montreal Police Service, Royal Canadian Mounted
Police, International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations
Center, Internet Crime Complaint Center, Costa Mesa, Calif., Police
Department, Orange County, Calif., District Attorney’s Office and the
New York City Police Department for their assistance.