A 30-year-old Romanian man charged in a bank card skimming scheme that used juveniles brought here from California to steal more than $170,000 from 40 bank ATMs in New Mexico will be held in federal detention until trial.
Stefan Boana, who recently was extradited from Greece, appeared in U.S. District Court here Thursday. He is accused of being one of the adult members of a group of Romanians who orchestrated the theft of card information from people using ATM machines to raid their accounts.
The teens would install counterfeit access devices in automated teller machines outside banks. According to court records, the skimmers would capture data from the bank cards and PIN numbers when victims used the machines to withdraw cash. Members of the ring then used information from the devices to withdraw money from the victims’ accounts.
More than $170,000 was taken from bank accounts in New Mexico – including Española, Santa Fe and Albuquerque – between November 2018 and March 2019.
Boana is charged with four counts of access device fraud, possession of counterfeit access devices and using unauthorized access devices. He faces up to 7½ years in federal prison if convicted.
Two of Boana’s alleged co-conspirators have pleaded guilty and been sentenced to federal prison.
The court records don’t say when he left the United States for Greece or what led to his arrest there.
The name of a fourth defendant has been redacted from the indictment, which usually means authorities are still searching for the suspect.
While the criminal charges stem from stealing information from ATMs and bank accounts in New Mexico, FBI agents tracked the group to other western and midwestern states where agents said they believe the ring committed the same crimes.
The juveniles were used, according court records, to place and remove the counterfeit access devices, commonly called “skimmers,” in the ATMs, because, if caught, they faced less severe criminal penalties, if any.
The agents identified the teenagers through photographs taken by the ATM cameras and tracked their movements from ATM machines in Española to Santa Fe and, finally, Albuquerque.
The group used false identities to rent cars in California, then traveled to western and midwestern states.
Part of Boana’s role was to provide false temporary license plates obtained from the Texas Motor Vehicle Department through the internet, according to the extradition request by the New Mexico U.S. Attorney’s Office to the Greek court.
Prosecutors also said digital photos from at least one of his codefendants’ cellphones placed Boana in Albuquerque during the time the bank card scheme was in play.
The ring was broken up in 2019 when several of the teens and one adult, Ion Antonescu, were arrested in Wichita Falls, Texas.
The pictures showed Boana with Ion Antonescu, who is now serving a 30-month sentence in a California federal prison. Antonescu pleaded guilty in Albuquerque earlier this year to four counts of conspiracy to commit access device fraud, possessing more than 15 of the so-called skimmers and access device fraud.
According to prosecutors, Antonescu supervised the juveniles, including his teenage son, placing the skimmers and shared in most of the profits.
Another defendant, Ramona Ghiocel, was arrested when she traveled from California to Wichita Falls to try and get her teenage daughter out of a juvenile lockup.
She was accused of renting the car the group used to travel from California to New Mexico and, eventually, Texas under a false name.
Court records don’t say what happened to the juveniles involved in the scheme, but Antonescu and Ghiocel were transferred to Albuquerque to face charges.
Ghiocel is currently in federal prison serving a two-year sentence following her guilty plea to conspiracy to commit access device fraud.
Both pleaded poverty as the reason for their crimes, according to court records.
But prosecutors countered that Antonescu’s digital footprint on social media showed he lived a lavish lifestyle, including designer clothes and expensive watches, while claiming to be a day laborer.
Ghiocel, who had prior arrests for panhandling, did not share in much of the money stolen by the group, according to prosecutors.
Chief U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson recommended that Immigration and Customs Enforcement begin removal proceedings while Antonescu and Ghiocel serve their sentences.
Attorneys for the two expressed concerns about them being sent back to Romania because both are Roma – the formal term for the ethnic minority group referred to as Gypsies, which is considered a slur.
Their lawyers argued that Antonescu and Ghiocel would face persecution in their home country and that Ghiocel had applied for asylum when she entered the country nine years ago.
Antonescu’s immigration status was less clear in the court records.
Prosecutors argued that Antonescu and Ghiocel could continue to fight their deportations following the completion of their sentences.
“This is a complicated area of law, especially when an individual makes claims of persecution,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Schied said in court documents.