In an investigation dubbed “Operation Thou Shalt Not Steal”, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested a ring of Romanian nationals accused of stealing $740,000 in donations from church mailboxes around the country on Thursday.
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About ‘Operation Thou Shalt Not Steal’
According to a statement published by the FDLE, agents arrested four of the six suspects who allegedly traveled around Florida and nationwide stealing donation checks from the mailboxes of hundreds of churches and parochial schools.
The FDLE says that the group of Romanian citizens was based in Orlando, but traveled around the country stealing more than 1,5000 checks from 636 churches, 355 of which were in Florida. According to the report, the alleged thieves sometimes stole donations from as many as 85 churches per day, and some of the churches were targeted multiple times.
The church theft ring allegedly opened multiple bank accounts to deposit checks, withdrawing cash from ATMs immediately after they cleared. Agents say the suspects used the money to purchase food, clothing, and cars, and would often send high-value wire transfers back to Romania.
The investigation has been going on since December 2020 after the Cape Coral Police Department first identified 24 victim churches within Lee County in addition to other Florida churches outside their jurisdiction.
“This low-tech yet well-organized effort to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of mailed-in charitable donations — at a time when donations may have been most needed — has been stopped,” FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said in the statement. “I appreciate the commitment of our investigators, analysts, Cape Coral PD and the Office of Statewide Prosecution for putting these criminals behind bars.”
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody added, “Churches depend on donations from generous members of the community to operate and serve those in need. It is despicable that this crime ring would exploit the selfless acts of kindness displayed through these donations for selfish greed. Thank you, to the law enforcement agencies that worked with my Office of Statewide Prosecution to bring these criminals to justice.”
Who Are the Suspects?
So far, four individuals have been arrested, while two suspects remain at large. Those arrested include Ionut Raducan, Marius Dumitru, Marius Dumitru (also known as Viorel Dumitru), and Panait Dumitru. All four suspects have been booked into Orange County Jail
Charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering, racketeering, grand theft, unlawful possession of personal identification information, and money laundering.
Agents are still looking for Catalin Trandafir (also known as Ionut Trandafir) and Simona Trandafir (also known as Simona Nitoi).