Card conspirators lose sentence appeal

Court of Appeal declines to calculate release date

Two men sentenced in March for conspiracy to defraud Cayman banks with cloned credit cards have lost their appeal against the length of their prison terms.

Ionut-Catalin Petcu, 27, and Marius-Ioan Bud-Popa, 42, were the first appellants to appear before the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal in the summer session, which began on Aug. 15.

They each were sentenced to two-and-a-half years by Justice Alastair Malcolm in Grand Court. Each had relevant convictions in other jurisdictions.

Three other people who also pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge received sentences of between 22 and 24 months. They did not appeal.

Petcu told the judges of the appeal court that he spoke and understood English very well. He presented his arguments in person. Bud-Popa, who had the assistance of an interpreter of the Romanian language, adopted the grounds of appeal argued by Petcu.

The period of offending was between Oct. 30 and Nov. 3, 2015, when there were 399 attempts to obtain cash from ATMs by using U.K. store cards or gift cards that had the appearance of credit cards; each contained a magnetic strip onto which customer information had been transferred.

The men argued that their sentences were manifestly harsh and excessive because bank customers did not suffer losses – the banks did, and the amount of the total loss was improperly calculated. They also maintained that they did not have a skimming device in their possession and a laptop with customer information did not belong to them.

Crown Counsel Toyin Salako responded, pointing out the difference between the harm intended and the actual harm caused. The five conspirators had successfully obtained more than $16,000 by using cloned credits cards in Automatic Teller Machine at different banks, but unsuccessful transactions totaled more than $96,000.

Justice Sir George Newman heard the matter with Justice Sir Richard Field and Justice Dennis Morrison before delivering their decision. He pointed out that the criminality the courts were concerned with was the joining together of the defendants in an enterprise that was intended to cause financial harm “to whatever extent they were able to achieve.”

Earlier he remarked that “conspiracy to defraud” was different from “the way the conspiracy worked out.”

Justice Newman said the appeal panel had concluded there was no reason for concluding that the sentence was so excessive that they should intervene. “I regard the sentencing judge’s exercise as impeccable,” he said.

Petcu had also complained that his release date was affected differently by the Conditional Release Law, which came into effect in February, compared to the Prisons Law that formerly applied.

Justice Newman said the Court of Appeal did not regard the provisions of the Conditional Release Law as having anything to do with the sentencing process. Any concerns about release dates should be raised with the authorities, he said.

A nine-member conditional release board was appointed shortly after the law came into effect.