Member of ATM thieves gang that targeted Roanoke area convicted in federal court | Crime News
A man who stole about $350,000 in cash, a few hundred dollars at a time in an elaborate ATM skimming case, was sentenced Monday in federal court in Roanoke to 30 months in prison.
Marius Catalui will likely be deported to his native Romania as soon as he is released to face money laundering charges there, federal authorities have said.
Catalui was among a group of Romanians who traveled to the United States solely to use electronic means to steal money from ATMs, taking money from hundreds of personal bank accounts in cities and counties along Interstate 81.
All of the victims were reimbursed by their banks or credit unions.
“While the government is not aware of anyone who has suffered significant financial hardship as a result of Catalui’s actions, it takes little thought to imagine the experience that hundreds of people endured when they realized that money was stolen from their accounts,” the assistant U.S. attorney said. Coleman Adams wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
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According to court records and testimony, here’s how the scheme worked:
Going from ATM to ATM across the Roanoke Valley and beyond, Catalui and his co-defendants set up hidden cameras that captured their victims’ PIN numbers when they kicked them into the machines. .
A skimming device that had been installed inside ATMs recorded debit card account information, which was then sent back to unsuspecting bank customers as they went about their business.
After encoding information on counterfeit cards, thieves returned to ATMs and used the stolen PINs to withdraw cash, taking batches of $20 bills over a period of around six months in 2018 and 2019.
Speaking through an interpreter Monday in U.S. District Court in Roanoke, Catalui told Judge Michael Urbanski he was “very sorry for what I did.”
Growing up in a country under the control of the Soviet Union, the 47-year-old said he had a tough upbringing. After breaking his leg as an adult, he said, he could not support his wife and children and became involved in the ATM skimming scheme.
“At the end of the day, your family is much worse,” Urbanski told Catalui, saying he had no excuse to join a gang of international criminals. “You deserve every day of custody you have received, Mr. Catalu,” the judge said.
Catalui was also ordered to pay, along with other convicts in the case, $351,642 to financial institutions, the real victims in the case. Prosecutors said that was the amount charged plus the costs for banks to issue replacement cards to their customers.
Defense attorney Chris Kowalczuk said his client was unlikely to be able to make restitution, given his uncertain fate in Romania. “A lot has happened in this part of the world in the last week,” Kowalczuk said, referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In early 2019, police in several jurisdictions were inundated with calls from people who reported unauthorized withdrawals from their accounts. The Roanoke Branch of the US Secret Service has opened an investigation.
A break came on May 5 that year, when a Bank of Fincastle customer in Botetourt County – whose wife had been the victim of the skimming – called 911 to report seeing a woman in long black hair and a baseball cap try to hide it. face as she stood in front of a drive-thru ATM.
The woman then left in a blue vehicle with New York license plates. The car was then pulled over for speeding by a sheriff’s deputy, who observed a small red bag thrown out the window.
Inside the car, authorities saw a wig of long black hair and a baseball cap. $8,800 was also recovered, mostly in $20 bills, and 46 Panera gift cards which were later determined to have been encoded with stolen bank account information.
A man and a woman, both Romanians, were arrested. Catalui was later charged after surveillance cameras caught him making repeated withdrawals from ATMs, in one case standing in front of the machine late at night for almost an hour.
An investigation revealed that the PIN codes had been captured by small pinhole cameras secretly installed near ATMs. In what authorities called a “sophisticated means” of theft, the skimming devices were placed in ATMs and were not noticeable to users.
Cameras and skimming equipment were moved from location to location between December 2018 and May 2019.
Catalui, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud and aggravated identity theft, received the harshest sentence of the three defendants who were charged in federal court in Roanoke.