15 plead guilty to fake online auctions using digital currencies

Fifteen defendants have pleaded guilty for their roles in an international crime ring that targeted American victims. The defendants would post non-existent goods on eBay and Craigslist and launder the victims’ payments through digital currencies.

According to an announcement by the Department of Justice, the 15 were part of an extensive online crime ring based in Romania that preyed on American victims. They would start by posting high-value goods, mostly vehicles on online sales and auction platforms. They would then convince American buyers to send them money for the goods ‘by crafting persuasive narratives.’

Once the customers agreed to make payment, the U.S-based operatives would receive the money and then convert it to digital currencies. They would then transfer the digital currencies to Romania-based operatives. The DoJ alleges that operatives in Romania colluded with the founder of a local digital currency exchange who would convert the digital currencies to fiat.

The defendants pleaded guilty at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

On June 11, one of leaders, 30-year-old Bogdan-Stefan Popescu pleaded guilty to one count of racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations (RICO) conspiracy. Popescu managed members of the crime ring in Romania. The DoJ alleges that he has been a member of the ring since at least December 2013.

Popescu was in charge of converting digital currencies to fiat and distributing it to the members. Once he received the digital currencies, he would transfer it to his fellow defendant Vlad-Călin Nistor, for conversion into cash.

Nistor was the founder of local digital currency exchange Coinflux Services SRI. According to the DoJ, he would convert the digital currencies into fiat for the ring members. This was despite being fully aware that the digital currencies were proceeds of illegal activity. He pleaded guilty on May 19 to one count of RICO conspiracy.

Two more defendants are scheduled to appear for their trial on September 14, while three more are fugitives. The 15 who pleaded guilty await their sentencing.

Michael D’Ambrosio, the assistant director for the U.S. Secret Service remarked, “Through the use of digital currencies and trans-border organizational strategies, this criminal syndicate believed they were beyond the reach of law enforcement. However, as this successful investigation clearly illustrates, with sustained, international cooperation, we can effectively hold cyber criminals accountable for their actions, no matter where they reside.”

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