Guilty Plea in ATM Skimming SchemeDefrauded Banks Out of $5 Million
A Romanian man has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his role in a large-scale ATM skimming scheme that defrauded Wells Fargo, Citibank, TD Bank and other financial institutions out of at least $5 million.
"Vintila's ATM skimming operation is one of the largest ever uncovered by law enforcement," authorities said in a Jan. 29 statement announcing the guilty plea.
Vintila was the ringleader of an extensive ATM skimming scheme that targeted thousands of bank customers throughout New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Florida and elsewhere, authorities say.
Vintila and his co-conspirators constructed sophisticated card-reader devices capable of reading and storing customers' bank account information as the customers performed routine bank transactions at ATMs, prosecutors say in the statement. The conspirators also hid pinhole cameras in panels designed to match existing ATM components. Vintila then taught and directed several conspirators to install the devices on ATMs, according to the statement.
Once installed, the card-reader devices secretly read identity and account information contained on the magnetic strip of customer ATM cards. The pinhole cameras recorded customer keystrokes as they entered their personal identification numbers, authorities say. After stealing the information, Vintila and his conspirators created thousands of fraudulent ATM cards, which they used to withdraw millions of dollars from customers' bank accounts.
Vintila also used the alias "Dan Girneata" to open bank accounts, rent vehicles and rent multiple self-storage units where he stored skimming devices, pinhole cameras, fraudulent ATM cards and cash proceeds, according to prosecutors. He also provided other conspirators with fake passports and aliases to use in furtherance of the scheme.
Vintila fled the U.S. in July 2013 when federal agents arrested various members of his skimming scheme, prosecutors say. He was arrested Sept. 24, 2013, in Sweden and later extradited to the United States, where he was charged in February 2014 on a six-count criminal complaint (see: Charges in ATM Skimming Scheme).
So far, 16 individuals involved in the scheme, including Vintila, have been charged. Eleven of the 16 have pleaded guilty, authorities say.
The bank fraud conspiracy charge to which Vintila pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The aggravated identity theft charge carries a mandatory, consecutive penalty of two years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine. Vintila is scheduled for sentencing on May 5.