Four men were arrested on Wednesday by Cape Coral Police in connection with the theft of $740,000 in donations to multiple churches. Police are still trying to locate the other two who are part of the crime ring.
While churches are struggling to make ends meet after being forced to close during the Wuhan virus pandemic, the despicable ring of criminals were using the stolen money to buy cars and clothes for themselves and to wire cash to their native Romania.
A study by the Association of National Evangelicals revealed that the pandemic has caused church offerings to plunge by an incredible 65% since mid-March.
The New York Post reports – The men took more than 1,500 checks from 636 churches – 355 in the state alone, cops said. The six operated out of Orlando but traveled throughout the state and elsewhere, sometimes hitting as many as 85 churches in a day, according to a police news release.
Some churches were hit multiple times, the release said.
They used aliases to deposit the donation checks into bank accounts, then withdrew the money at ATMs before the banks caught on, cops said. They allegedly used the money for themselves, but also sent “high-value wire transfers” back home.
Now in custody are Ionut Raducan, 33, Marius Dumitru, 28, Marius Dumitru, 34, and Panait Dumitru, 32. Catalin Trandafir, 45, and Simona Trandafir, 39, remain at large, police said.
They are all facing charges including conspiracy to commit racketeering, grand theft and money laundering.
The investigation was sparked in December when Cape Coral Police Department found 24 churches in Lee County alone hit by the scam, and a probe into the thefts expanded beyond the local jurisdiction with multiple law enforcement agencies.