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‘Gypsies’ accused of scamming residents

They stole PINs from ATMs around county and conned some people into wiring money for cars, indictment states.

April 07, 2009|By Joseph Serna

Ten Europeans accused of defrauding people in Costa Mesa and various locations worldwide are due back in federal court in two weeks, and the case will likely expand, prosecutors said Tuesday.

In an investigation that stretches into fall of last year, a federal grand jury indicted 10 gypsies April 1 on counts of conspiracy, counterfeiting passports and scamming people out of thousands of dollars through various schemes.

The group, referred to as the “Anaheim Gypsy criminal organization” in the indictment, used “skimming” devices, false advertisements on Craigslist and fake automobile auctions to get hundreds of thousands of dollars that were eventually sent back to their home country, Romania, according to the indictment.

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Skimming is when a person places equipment over an ATM machine at a bank or gas station that looks similar to the actual machine but records the victim’s card information when it’s used. They then program that information onto a manufactured card and after recording you put in your personal identification number, either through a hidden camera or watching from a distance, they can access your account and empty it. Authorities suspect the group had skimming operations in Costa Mesa and other Orange County cities.

Federal prosecutors also accuse the group of creating fake Czech passports with false names to open bank accounts at various banks in Southern California. These accounts served various purposes in the group’s elaborate scheme, officials said.

For example, Denis Chiciu, 35, is accused of tricking one person into transferring thousands into his account where it was under a fake name, because they thought they were buying a car. The scheme lasted more than a year and involved more than 100 wire transfers to Romania, totaling well more than $100,000, according to the indictment. Some of the money was used to buy cars, such as a 2006 Cadillac XLR Roadster with cash in September, authorities said. Prosecutors claim the car was then shipped back to Romania.

The fake accounts also posed as online escrow services that would hold money from one victim while they waited to receive a car they had purchased. Only the escrow service was fake, as was the seller of the vehicle, according to the grand jury’s indictment.

The group has victims in Canada and Puerto Rico on top of local areas like Costa Mesa, Brea, Anaheim and Chino Hills, authorities said.

The group was originally charged in Orange County Superior Court with three additional defendants, but all charges were dismissed Friday following the federal indictment released last week. All the defendants are free on bail. The continuing investigation involves local, state, federal and Romanian authorities.

DEFENDANTS

Anaheim Gypsy criminal organization defendants:

Denis Chiciu, 34

Monica Serdaru, 30

Florina Welch, 28

Soniard Chiciu, 37

Felix Chiciu, 22

Maria Geta Chiciu, 32

Nicolae Duduian, 34

Alin Antonescu, 24

Relu Traila, 21

Alberto Crudu, 28


Reporter JOSEPH SERNA may be reached at (714) 966-4619 or at joseph.serna@latimes.com.

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