The second of two men has been sentenced for his role in an international criminal network that engaged in a wide-ranging online auction fraud scheme that targeted victims in Northern Ohio and elsewhere in the United States.

A federal judge sentenced Costel Alecu, 38, of Bucharest, Romania, to more than five and a half years in prison.

In addition to the prison sentence, Alecu was ordered to pay a special assessment of $12,000 with restitution to be determined later.

According to court documents, from July 2008 through August 2020, Alecu and codefendant Madalin Ghinea, 35, of Alexandria, Romania, were part of a conspiracy that devised a scheme to entice victims in the United States and elsewhere to purchase items online, including vehicles and other high-value items, that did not exist and to obtain the personal identifying information of their victims.

As a result, victims suffered a combined loss of approximately $3 million USD.

Both men spent a brief period in the Mahoning County Jail last year prior to their initial court appearances.

Investigators say Alecu and other conspiracy members created accounts on various auction websites to post advertisements for goods that did not exist. 

In some cases, Alecu and others created and used fictitious websites, email addresses and other forms of communication that contained counterfeit trademark information designed to convince their victims that the advertisements were genuine.

In addition, according to court documents, the conspirators used a number of fraudulent online communication templates and email addresses to deceive victims into believing that they were communicating with legitimate business representatives when, in fact, they were speaking with a member of the conspiracy.

Federal agents that Alecu and others then used a network of money launderers and money mules to obtain payment from their victims and transfer the funds overseas. 

Alecu and the conspirators used the stolen personal identifying information of their victims, credit cards and bank accounts to launder money overseas and fund the operation of their network by purchasing items such as virtual private networks and domain names.

Romanian authorities arrested Alecu and Ghinea in March 2021.

Madalin Ghinea was sentenced on June 1, 2022, to more than four years in prison and ordered to pay $450,000.00 in restitution for his role in the scheme.