Romanian citizens plead guilty to laundering $1.4 million in proceeds from jewelry thefts and COVID fraud


Date: June 20, 2023


SAN DIEGO — Eduard Ghiocel and Floarea Ghiocel, married Romanian nationals and leaders of a Romania-based transnational organized crime group, pleaded guilty today to laundering $1.4 million in proceeds from dozens of grand thefts, robberies and swindles targeting mostly elderly victims in San Diego County.

According to their plea agreement, Eduard and Floarea Ghiocel, along with the assistance of co-conspirators Gabriel Ghiocel, Marius Ghiocel, Larisa Ghiocel, and Argentina Alexandru, conducted a series of 17 grand thefts and robberies of jewelry in elderly communities in San Diego. Defendants and co-conspirators then pawned the stolen, expensive jewelry and watches for cash in jewelry stores in Los Angeles. In addition, Eduard and Floarea Ghiocel admitted to submitting fraudulent unemployment claims to the California Employment Development Department (EDD), and together with their co-conspirators received a total of approximately $32,250 in California unemployment insurance benefits intended to help workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eduard and Floarea Ghiocel admitted to sending cash from the jewelry thefts and the stolen unemployment insurance proceeds by wire transfers to Romania via Money Service Businesses, and using the stolen proceeds to purchase gold bars, gold coins, and high-end luxury vehicles from locations in Southern California and shipping these items to Romania. In total the Ghiocel Sub-Group sent $1,367,652.02 from illicit funds to Romania, knowing the money represented the proceeds of grand thefts and robberies of jewelry, and California EDD fraud, the plea agreement said.

In a forfeiture addendum, Eduard and Floarea Ghiocel also agreed to forfeit assets including a white 2019 Lamborghini Urus, a black 2020 Ferrari Portofino, two gold coins worth $4,000, and $1,896.37 worth of U.S. currency. These items were seized across Valcea County, Romania on March 14, 2023 pursuant to seven Romanian search warrants issued by the Bucharest Tribunal and executed by police officers from the Romanian National Police's Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime, Service for Combatting Organized Criminal Groups, and Service for Combatting Organized Crime Valcea, assisted by FBI and IRS officers. Eduard and Floarea Ghiocel also agreed to forfeit a blue 2021 Lamborghini Urus and a BMW X4, also seized in Romania pursuant to the aforementioned warrants. After the defendants are sentenced and the forfeiture finalized, it is the intent of the U.S. Attorney to seek restoration of the forfeited properties to pay restitution to victims.

The co-conspirators remain at large in Romania.

"These defendants led an international crime ring that stole beloved personal items from elderly victims," said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. "They thought that seniors would be easy marks, but the plan has backfired. Our prosecution team and agencies followed the organized crime group's trail all the way to Romania to assist in the seizure of assets laundered from stolen jewelry and pandemic funds in California."

"While most people were worrying about how to stay healthy and protect their loved ones during the height of the pandemic, Eduard Ghiocel and Floarea Ghiocel were busy victimizing the elderly within our communities and targeting relief programs. They will now face the consequences of their crimes and their flagrant disregard for our communities," said Tyler Hatcher, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation Los Angeles Field Office. "Investigating individuals and organizations that prey on vulnerable communities and exploited the CARES act is one of our top priorities. IRS-CI will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners locally and internationally to locate and hold criminal organizations accountable for their crimes."

Grossman thanked the prosecution team and agencies along with their international partners for their inexhaustible efforts to bring justice for these victims.

"This scheme is egregious because it specifically targeted our most vulnerable citizens," said FBI San Diego's Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy. "The FBI is allocating as many resources as possible to identify and bring to justice individuals who are preying on our older adult population."

"Too many people suffer at the hands of this type of organized crime," said San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit. "We will continue working with our law enforcement partners to hold these criminals and their co-conspirators accountable."

Assistance was provided by the Romanian National Police (Service for Combatting Organized Criminal Groups and Service for Combatting Organized Crime Valcea) and the Romanian Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (Agency for Prosecuting Organized Crime). The Justice Department's Office of International Affairs also provided significant assistance.

The couple is scheduled to be sentenced on August 21 at 10 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Larry Burns.