Cleveland, OH

Two Romanians charged in an auction fraud scheme targeting victims in the Northern District of Ohio

James Stephens
Tingey Injury Law Firm/Unsplash

CLEVELAND, OH - Bridget M. Brennan, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, announced that Costel Alecu, 37, of Bucharest, Romania, and Madalin Ghinea, 34, of Alexandria, Romania, were charged in a twelve-count indictment, revealed in federal court July 20.

This charge stems from their roles in an international criminal network, whose members are involved in a wide-range online auction fraud scheme targeting Northern District of Ohio residents and other cities in the United States.

The twelve-count indictments are one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, eight counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit service marks, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one count of aggravated identity theft. They were caught and arrested by Romanian authorities in March of 2021.

The indictment alleges begin from July 2008 through August 2020, Alecu, Ghinea, and other conspirators devised a plan to convince their victims in Ohio and other cities to do an online transaction by selling vehicles and other high-value items that did not exist.

To perform their scheme, Alecu and other members created accounts on various auction websites and post ads selling nonexistence items. In some cases, Alecu and others purposely created and used fictional websites, email addresses, and other forms of communication that contained counterfeit trademark information designed to convince their victims.

The group also used several fraudulent online communication templates and email to deceive the victims. They use this method to obtain the personal information of their victims, such as credit cards, and bank account to launder money overseas and fund their fraud operation network.

They used a network of money launderers and "smurfer" to obtain payment from their victims and transfer the funds overseas. As a result, all victims' combined losses are approximately $9 million.

An indictment is a formal charge or accusation of a serious crime, but not yet evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove they are guilty.

If they are proven guilty, the sentence will be given after the court reviews unique factors to the Alecu and Ghinea case, including their involvement in this case, prior criminal record, and all possible violations. At best, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum, and it may be less than the maximum in most cases. Further investigation will be needed.

This case was investigated by the Cleveland FBI with help from authorities in Romania. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Duncan T. Brown and Brian S. Deckert of the Northern District of Ohio and Senior Counsel Timothy Flowers of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.

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