OC authorities arrest 48 accused of skimming from low-income Californians

The group would steal EBT benefits then buy baby formula and trade it with Mexican cartels

KABC logo
Saturday, January 20, 2024
OC authorities bust Romanian ring accused of skimming EBT cards
The group is accused of stealing benefits from low-income Californians and then buying baby formula and bringing it to Mexico to trade with cartels.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Orange County authorities arrested 48 alleged members of a Romanian crime ring who allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from low-income Californians by skimming their state benefit cards.

The suspects are accused of installing skimming devices in stores and using them to swipe the information off of EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards, which low-income families use to buy food and baby formula.

Once they have the information, they bleed the cards dry, buying baby formula which they then bring down to Mexico - where formula is in short supply - and engage in trade with drug cartels.

The victims may not realize they have lost all their benefits until they are at the checkout, trying to buy groceries for their families.

"These are not victimless crimes," said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer. "The victims are single mothers struggling to put a roof over their children's heads and food on the table and hardworking people who need a helping hand who find themselves standing at the checkout line with bags full of groceries only to be humiliated when they find that they have no money in their account because a thief has surreptitiously taken everything."

The state of California lost some $108 million in CalWORKS benefits last year from such skimming operations.

The suspects are from Romania and many of them entered the country illegally, Spitzer said.

Among those arrested was Florin Duduianu, 39, one of Romania's most wanted criminals, and described as the leader of the group, according to officials.

Duduianu has since been indicted by a federal grand jury for fraudulently accessing government assistance funds.

Some of the suspects were seen in social media posts flaunting luxury cars and Rolex watches, and even bragging in Romanian: "Don't love what isn't yours, you can make it yours."

Spitzer along with law enforcement officials are now calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to implement chip technology for EBT cards, similar to when California issued the Middle Class Tax Refund via chipped debit cards in October 2022.

Authorities said the chip technology would make it more difficult for thieves to clone the EBT cards and illicitly withdraw funds.