- Newark 02/07/2014 (AP)
The alleged ringleader of a scheme federal prosecutors say siphoned at least $5 million from thousands bank accounts by installing skimming devices in cash machines was formally charged Friday in New Jersey following his extradition from Europe.
Romanian national Marius Vintila appeared in U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., on six charges including bank fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft.
The 31-year-old from Galati, Romania, was arrested Sept. 24 in Sweden and extradited to New Jersey where some of the alleged thefts took place. Prosecutors say bank customers in New York, Connecticut and Florida were also affected.
Vintila fled to Europe following the arrests in July of several of his 12 alleged co-conspirators, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey. Prosecutors say many of the co-conspirators are also Romanian nationals who live in and around the New York City borough of Queens.
Vintila, who frequently operated under the alias Dan Girneata, allegedly oversaw an operation that stole banking and credit card information from thousands of bank customers through building and installing devices in ATMs to "skim" customer account information, according to court papers. Prosecutors say the ring also installed pinhole cameras in bank vestibules to record ATM users' keystrokes in order to decipher personal identification numbers. Prosecutors say Vintila then worked with his co-conspirators to create fake bank cards using the stolen information, and used the cards to withdraw money from customer accounts.
The U.S. attorney's office estimates that $3 million was stolen from Wells Fargo bank, and $1 million each from Citibank and TD Bank. Other unnamed financial institutions were also affected.
Vintila appeared in jeans and a white t-shirt on Friday, and was shackled around the waist. He answered a judge's questions through a Romanian translator. His court-appointed attorney, Christopher D. Adams, said his client had no criminal record, would fight the charges, and planned to plead not guilty to all six counts.
U.S. Magistrate Madeline Cox Arleo ordered Vintila to remain in federal custody. She set a hearing date for Feb. 17.