ORLANDO, Fla. – Four Orlando men have been arrested after $740,000 worth of checks were stolen from 636 churches across the country, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
FDLE said they are still looking for one Orlando man and one Orlando woman in “Operation Thou Shalt Not Steal.”
“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. I appreciate the commitment of our investigators, analysts, Cape Coral PD and the Office of Statewide Prosecution for putting these criminals behind bars,” FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said.
Law enforcement officers said they stole donations from churches in Florida and across the country. According to an FDLE report, the suspects lived together in a residence off Villano Avenue.
The investigation started in December after Cape Coral police found out 24 different churches had donations stolen, according to FDLE. The FDLE said the operation targeted various counties in the state, including Alachua, Lake, Marion, Orange, Polk, Seminole and Volusia counties.
The people involved are all Romanian citizens and they are accused of traveling to churches and stealing donation checks from mailboxes, according to law enforcement officers. Investigators said the suspects operated out of Orlando.
Sometimes the suspects would go to 85 churches in a day and some of the churches were targeted multiple times, according to investigators.
FDLE said the thieves used different aliases to deposit the checks into numerous bank accounts, using ATMs to withdraw funds as soon as they were posted. Investigators said they moved funds before the banks could recognize anything suspicious and the money was frequently sent through wire transfers to Romania.
The suspects are accused of stealing more than 1,500 checks. FDLE said 355 of the 636 churches hit were in Florida.
The following suspects have been arrested and are facing charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering, racketeering, grand theft, unlawful possession of personal identification information and money laundering:
- Ionut Raducan, 33, of Orlando
- Marius Dumitru, 27, of Orlando
- Marius Dumitru (also known as Viorel Dumitru), 34, of Orlando
- Pananit Dumitru, 32, of Orlando
The FDLE is still searching for Catalin Trandafir, 45, and Simona Trandafir, 39.