FORT MYERS (CBSMiami) – The Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Wednesday arrested four people accused of stealing donations from Florida churches.
FDLE began “Operation Thou Shalt Not Steal” back in December of 2020 after Cape Coral PD notified the agency that 24 Lee County-based churches had been victimized.READ MORE: Tropical Storm Warning Extended For Northern Gulf Coast Ahead Of Potential Tropical Cyclone Three
Agents began looking for six suspects:
- Ionut Raducan, 33
- Marius Dumitru, 27
- Marius Dumitru, 34 (Also known as Viorel Dumitru)
- Panait Dumitru, 32
- Catalin Trandafir, 45 (Also known as Ionut Trandafir)
- Simona Trandafir, 39 (Also known as Simona Nitoi)
According to investigators, the suspects, all Romanian citizens, would travel to churches, sometimes many as 85 per day, to steal donation checks from mailboxes. FDLE added they would even steal from the same churches multiple times.
While the suspects operated out of Orlando, they allegedly stole from churches all over the state and other parts of the U.S.
FDLE said that while the suspects used the stolen money to purchase vehicles, food and clothing, the group frequently sent wire transfers to Romania.
In all, FDLE said the six stole over 1,500 checks from 636 churches, including 355 Florida churches, totaling over $740,000.READ MORE: Miami-Dade, Broward County Public Schools To Continue Free Summer Food Distribution
“Churches depend on donations from generous members of the community to operate and serve those in need. It is despicable that this crime ring would exploit the selfless acts of kindness displayed through these donations for selfish greed,” said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, whose office will prosecute the case.
On Wednesday, Raducan, Marius Dumitru, Viorel Dumitru and Panait Dumitru were arrested.
The four are facing several charges each, ranging from racketeering to grand theft.
“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,” said FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen.
Law enforcement is still looking for Catalin and Simona Trandafir.MORE NEWS: 'We Need To Get To 70 Percent By July 4th': Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava Hopes To Meet Biden Admin. Goal
If you have any information on their whereabouts, call FDLE or your local law enforcement agency.