Siphoning off $ 587,000 from ATMs in Michigan leads to jail elsewhere

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A man convicted of stealing bank account numbers from ATMs in Michigan and other states was sentenced to six years and three months in prison on Wednesday, May 12.

Ioan Georgel Christian Flore was part of a Romanian group that placed skimming devices and pinhole cameras at ATMs in Michigan, Iowa, and Nebraska to steal over $ 500,000.

A co-defendant, Marius Mastan, had previously been sentenced to four years and five months in prison.

The US Hala Jarbou District also ordered Flore to pay US $ 587,529.50 in restitution. Mastan was also asked to pay the same refund.

U.S. assistant attorney Clay Stiffler said the two were part of a larger conspiracy that used skimming devices to steal customers’ bank account information. Financial institutions in Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, Ann Arbor and the Detroit area were among the victims, authorities said.

About 300 debit cards were compromised at a Battle Creek credit union, the FBI said.

The skimming devices were fed into ATM card receptors to obtain information. Hidden cameras that appeared to be part of the ATMs captured personal identification numbers or PINs. Those behind the program usually left devices in the machines for several days in order to “collect as much data as possible,” Stiffler wrote in a verdict.

They would then download the stolen information onto cloned cards and write the PINs on the cards. Days later, they would withdraw cash from the account, usually taking into account the daily limit, the prosecutor said.

He said Flore was involved in taking cash, installing skimming equipment, and cloning cards.

Marius Mastan is shown with a hidden camera in this photo filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Flore and Mastan targeted credit unions that did not have a chip-enabled ATM. They would disable chip readers on others so that ATMs would use magnetic stripes by default, Stiffler said.

Such thefts are rare because criminals need the PIN to steal money.

“Financial institutions don’t even know their customers’ PINs,” he wrote. “Because of this, the fraudulent withdrawals often did not trigger the financial institutions’ fraud monitoring software. Hence, they didn’t find out about it until customers contacted them to complain about the fraudulent withdrawals. At that point, the money was gone from the accounts. “

The insurance did not cover the losses of the financial institutions because the individual thefts had no deductibles, said Stiffler.

Ioan Georgel Christian Flore

Ioan Georgel Christian Flore tampered with the chip reader at Battle Creek Credit Union before installing a skimming device, the federal prosecutor said in court files. (Photo from the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan)

Flore and Mastan were arrested on May 22nd.

During the overflight, the two were recorded in a white van that was registered with Flore. The information was fed into a Michigan State Police freeway reader reader, which shows the van had been driving I-94 on the days the crimes were committed.

A warning given to investigators said the van was traveling west on I-94 towards the Indiana border. Police stopped the vehicle in Hobart, Indiana. Flore and Mastan were on their way to Chicago after getting cash in the Detroit area with the stolen information, Stiffler wrote.

Flore justified the crimes because the only victims were banks, the prosecutor said.

He attributed a loss of $ 587,529 to Flore. Fraud alert software prevented another $ 202,000 in losses, he said.

Defense attorney Health Lynch denied the extent of the casualties. He said Flore was wrongly held responsible for his co-defendant’s crimes.

Brent Johnson, an FBI specialty agent, wrote in a criminal complaint that the FBI and Michigan State Police were “investigating a large ATM skimming network” when Flore and Mastan were arrested.

He said the crimes began on September 1, 2019.

The two were caught under video surveillance making fraudulent withdrawals, he said.

The US Immigration & Customs Enforcement determined that Flore and Mastan are from Romania. Flore has exceeded his immigration status while Mastan is a legal permanent resident whose immigration status will expire in September 2023, the FBI agent wrote in court documents.

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