Six “low-tech” burglars snatched $740,000 in donations from church mailboxes, then used the money to buy cars, clothes, and wire money back to Romania, according to Florida authorities.
Four of the sacrilegious thieves were apprehended on Wednesday, but two remain on the run, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“This low-tech but well-organized effort to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in mailed-in charitable donations has been stopped,” Department Commissioner Rick Swearingen said in a statement.
According to officials, the men stole more than 1,500 checks from 636 churches, with 355 in the state alone. According to a police press release, the six operated out of Orlando but went throughout the state and beyond, sometimes assaulting as many as 85 churches in a single day.
According to the press release, some churches were hit many times.
According to investigators, they created aliases to deposit donation cheques into bank accounts, then withdrew the money from ATMs before the banks caught on. They allegedly spent the money on themselves while also sending “high-value wire transfers” back to their homeland.
“To operate and serve those in need, churches rely on donations from generous members of the community,” said state Attorney General Ashley Moody in a statement.
“It is despicable that this criminal gang would profit from the selfless acts of kindness demonstrated through these donations.”
Ionut Raducan, 33, Marius Dumitru, 28, Marius Dumitru, 34, and Panait Dumitru, 32, are now in custody. Catalin Trandafir, 45, and Simona Trandafir, 39, are still on the loose, according to authorities.
Allegations against them include racketeering conspiracy, big theft, and money laundering.
The inquiry began in December when the Cape Coral Police Department discovered 24 churches in Lee County alone that had been victimized by the fraud, prompting a multi-jurisdictional inquiry into the robberies.