Seven Acadiana residents authorities say were affiliated with a Romanian cybercrime ring were arrested on Tuesday in connection with a scam targeting online shoppers, while two fugitives connected to the case remain at large.
The cyberscam robbed around $1.4 million from more than 500 people in Louisiana and Mississippi, said Steven Hartmann, spokesman for Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, whose office led the investigation.
“This is a scam designed to take people’s money by presenting a fraudulent website that looks like a real one,” Hartmann said.
Those involved in the scheme are accused of redirecting unknowing shoppers to fraudulent versions of well-known websites like eBay and Craigslist, Hartmann said.
Once victims tried to make a purchase on the phony websites, they were instructed — usually through email — to pay via money-wiring services such as MoneyGram and Western Union but never received the items they ordered.
The operation extended throughout Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, East Baton Rouge and Lincoln Parishes, as well as into Mississippi, but Hartmann said authorities believe the group operates nationwide.
“We do believe the crimes are spread throughout the country,” Hartmann said.
Those arrested included Ovidiu Micu, 34, and Daniel Coroiu, 42, who resided at 1002 Park Avenue in Breaux Bridge. Others living at the same address who were arrested were April Derouselle, 34, Ashley Journet, 27, and Edward Journet, 31.
The other two people arrested were neighbors off Ole Colony Road in Lafayette: 47-year-old Ionel Popa, of 213 Lodge Dr., Apartment C, and 26-year-old Nielsen Racu, of 224 Young Dr.
Hartmann said authorities are still searching for two others believe to be involved in the cyberscam: Dorin Munteneau, 31, who shares the residence on Young drive with Racu, and Gheorghe Olar, 39, of 1020 Shady Oaks Lane, Breaux Bridge.
All seven of those arrested face felony racketeering charges and were being held without bond Tuesday at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center.
The arrests came four months after two others affiliated with the group were arrested in Pearl, Mississippi, on June 11.
Paul Moraru-Rogoza, 37, faces up to 75 years behind bars — or five years for each count — for 14 counts of communications fraud and one count of fraudulent use of identity, according to a June news release from Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.
Gicu Oprea, 40, faces up to a decade in prison for one count each on the same charges.
Caldwell’s office handled a similar racketeering case in 2011 against four Romanian-Moldovan nationals, who perpetrated similar crimes using counterfeit eBay and Auto Trader websites.
“Scammers target anyone and everyone, so it’s important to guard your personal information, especially when shopping online,” Caldwell said in a news release. “In this case, we have an organized effort from overseas that affects thousands of people each year.”
Two of the men involved in the current case, Micu and Coroiu, both served a year in prison and four years of probation after they were convicted in July 2010 of simple burglary — an amended charge downgraded from aggravated burglary, according to court documents.
Micu received a first-time offender’s pardon on July 5 of this year, although his probation was nearly revoked in 2012 when he was arrested for domestic battery.