LOS ANGELES—A Romanian national who swiped Los Angeles County food and assistance payments from the needy using cloned ATM cards was sentenced on Sept. 22 to 24 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $2,980 in restitution.
Sandu Dumitrescu, 47, pleaded guilty in June to a single federal count of bank fraud and admitted he installed skimming devices and hidden cameras at ATMs to steal and store account numbers and personal identification numbers from cards inserted into the machines at locations in Los Angeles, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Los Angeles Police Department started the investigation into the fraudulent withdrawal of benefits in August 2022, and the U.S. Secret Service soon after joined "Operation Urban Justice" as a joint partner.
Documents filed in federal court outline how state officials identified Mr. Dumitrescu and 14 others and more than $5 million in funds stolen from victims' EBT—electronic benefit transfer—cards.
The fraud targeted CalWORKs and CalFresh—previously known as "food stamps"—both of which are intended to help low-income beneficiaries purchase food and provide for basic needs.
The investigation revealed that the fraudulent withdrawal of these benefits is done with "cloned" cards, which are debit cards, gift cards, or other devices with magnetic strips that have been encoded with information from legitimate EBT cards.
Court documents allege that at least some of those involved in the fraudulent withdrawals obtained stolen EBT card information from skimming devices installed on ATM machines, the Department of Justice said.
At the time of his arrest, Mr. Dumitrescu possessed 17 EBT account numbers, according to his plea agreement.