Judge says police in this case deserve special commendation
Two men who pleaded guilty to a credit card fraud conspiracy were each sentenced on Thursday to three years’ imprisonment. A third man’s sentencing was postponed. A woman who pleaded not guilty received a 15-month term for money laundering.
All are Romanian citizens who came to Cayman as visitors in December 2014. Details of the charge of conspiracy to defraud were that Roland Pop, Ianacu Vlismas, Florin Roata and Mariana Oprinoiu conspired together with persons unknown, between Dec. 10 and Dec. 17, to defraud local retail banks by dishonestly withdrawing cash from ATM machines with the use of cloned credit cards.
In passing sentence, Justice Michael Mettyear said sentencing guidelines were concerned not only with the amount of money taken, but also with the amount intended to be taken. He pointed out that two banks had reported a minimum loss of $59,000. That clearly was not the amount obtained, because more than US$100,000 and CI$10,000 had been recovered.
Even that was not the true total, he noted, because money had been wired out of the country and another man – named as Ovidiu Milalache – may have taken money with him when he left Cayman before the others were arrested.
“I have no doubt more would have been taken if not for the excellent work of the banks and the police,” he commented. The men had obtained a lot of money in a very short time and their aim was to get as much as possible. The judge said it seemed to him that a figure of $250,000 was realistic.
Pop and Vlismas, who pleaded guilty to the conspiracy, also admitted money laundering; specifically, that they had in their possession criminal property, namely approximately US$101,698, on Dec. 17. That is when the men were arrested; police officers searching their hotel accommodations recovered the cash, a large quantity of gift cards and a card swipe device.
Roata and Oprinoiu had traveled as a couple on an “early honeymoon,” explaining that they intended to be married after Roata’s divorce was expected to be finalized in February 2015.
All four defendants pleaded not guilty to various charges of theft from local banks. In addition, Roata denied money laundering, but pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge. Authorities are checking into possible previous convictions and his case is expected to be brought back within three weeks.
Oprinoiu was found not guilty of conspiracy after a judge-alone, weeklong trial that ended on May 1. Justice Mettyear said he was satisfied that she knew what the men were doing, but there was no direct evidence that she played any active role in the conspiracy. There was no fingerprint evidence, no CCTV, no observation evidence, no forensic evidence and no admissions.
He did find her guilty of money laundering – possession of approximately US$19,511 that was criminal property, on Dec. 16.
That money was recovered when police searched the room Roata and Oprinoiu had shared. In the leg of a pair of jeans belonging to Oprinoiu, officers found US$9,300 and CI$1,700. In her red wallet they found US$6,000 and 1,685 euros. Oprinoiu had said she brought the money in her wallet with her for shopping. The judge rejected this evidence, pointing out that she herself had said she spent her time between the room and the beach. “She never showed a moment’s interest in shopping, even in Grand Cayman where the opportunities are plentiful,” he said.
Oprinoiu maintained she did not know about the money in her jeans. She also stated she did not know about paper with credit card information plus memory cards hidden in one of her bras, nor did she know about 23 gift cards found in a mesh bag containing her underwear. Twenty of those cards had genuine credit card information imported into their magnetic strips.
Roata had given evidence in the woman’s trial. He said she did not know about the items and he had hidden them in clothing he knew she would not be wearing. Justice Mettyear rejected this evidence. “It is difficult to think of a worse place to hide things from a woman than her own jeans, her bra and a mesh bag holding her used underwear,” he commented. He said the items were placed where they would be less likely to be observed by someone tidying the room.
The judge concluded that Oprinoiu either put the items where they were found or else knew that Roata put them there and was content with the situation.
Before passing sentence on Thursday, Justice Mettyear heard a summary of the offenses from Crown counsel Toyin Salako, who had also conducted the prosecution’s case in Oprinoiu’s trial. The judge heard from attorney Amelia Fosuhene about the personal circumstances of Oprinoiu, 34; and from attorney Laurence Aiolfi for Pop, 40, and Vlismas, 39.
He rejected Mr. Aiolfi’s description of the men as “foot soldiers,” saying their conduct was sophisticated and that all three had been enthusiastic in attacking the ATMs.
Activities like this had an impact on the banks and the individuals whose personal information had been stolen, he pointed out.
For this category of conspiracy to defraud, the sentencing range was three to six years, the judge explained. He chose four-and-a half years as his starting point and said Pop and Vlismas were entitled to a significant discount for their guilty pleas. He sentenced both to three years’ imprisonment; sentences for money laundering were made concurrent.
For Oprinoiu, the sentencing range for money laundering was six months to two years, with a starting point of one year. But this was not a starting point case, he said, arriving at a sentence of 15 months.
All will receive credit for time in custody since their arrest. Justice Mettyear recommended that they be deported after serving their time.
He concluded by offering special commendation to the police officers who had worked on the case and he thanked the interpreter of the Romanian language, without whom proceedings would have taken much longer, he said.