By SDCN Editor
San Diego, CA–A Romanian husband and wife, and suspected leaders of a Romania-based transnational organized crime group, were charged in federal court with laundering $1.4 million in proceeds from dozens of small thefts, robberies, and swindles targeting mostly elderly victims in San Diego County.
Eduard Ghiocel, 47, and Floarea Ghiocel, 48, along with four of the Ghiocels’ family members or close associates, including Gabriel Ghiocel, 25, Marius Ghiocel, 33, Larisa Ghiocel, 24, and Argentina Alexandru, 31, were charged with fraud.
All defendants are alleged associates of the larger Valcea Romanian Transnational Crime Group.
Eduard and Floarea Ghiocel were transferred from state to federal custody and made their first appearance in federal court Tuesday. The other defendants remain at large in Romania.
On Monday night, pursuant to seven Romanian search warrants issued by the Bucharest Tribunal and executed by police officers from the Romanian National Police’s Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, Service for Combating Organized Criminal Groups, and Service for Combating Organized Crime Valcea, assisted by FBI and IRS, officers seized Ghiocel assets across locations in Valcea County, Romania, including high-end luxury vehicles, gold coins, and cash, totaling $618,075.
According to a complaint and an international seizure warrant, the defendants conducted a series of 17 jewelry thefts in elderly communities in San Diego between March 2020 and September 2022. The complaint said the Ghiocels also filed false unemployment claims in order to steal about $32,250 in California unemployment insurance benefits intended to help workers impacted by the pandemic.
According to the complaint, the Ghiocels laundered the proceeds of their crimes by pawning expensive gold jewelry and watches for cash in jewelry stores in Los Angeles. The Ghiocels, who never had any legitimate employment, then systematically laundered that cash, along with the stolen unemployment insurance proceeds by sending wire transfers to Romania via Money Service Businesses, and by purchasing gold bars, gold coins, and high-end luxury vehicles from locations in Southern California and shipping these items to Romania. In total the Ghiocel Sub-Group repatriated $1,367,652.02 in assets from illicit funds to Romania, the complaint said.
“We have alleged that an organized crime group targeted and robbed members of San Diego’s senior community, many of whom lost items of great personal significance,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “We will pursue justice for these crime victims wherever the evidence takes us, even as far as Romania.”
“This international organized crime ring targeted some of the most vulnerable of our population. It’s important that we send a message to criminals that the safety of everyone in our community matters,” said San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit.
If convicted, the defendants face twenty years in prison and a $500,000 fine or twice the value of the monetary instrument or funds involved in the transportation, transmission, or transfer, whichever is greater.