Four suspects have been arrested for roughly $740,000 church heist, and police are still searching for two others.
Those arrested have been identified as Ionut Raducan, Marius Dumitru, Marius Dumitru, and Panait Dumitru. Catalin Trandafir and Simona Trandafir have not yet been apprehended.
Police say that the robbers were stationed in Orlando, Florida but traveled to sanctuaries across the state to steal thousands of dollars in mailed-in donations. The group would often travel outside the state to carry out the heist. In some instances, they would target up to 85 churches in one day, with some being hit multiple times. Authorities believe the group stole over 1,500 checks from 636 churches, 355 of which were in Florida.
The thieves used aliases to deposit the stolen checks into bank accounts and then withdrew funds from ATMs before the banks became suspicious. They then used the stolen money to purchase vehicles, clothes and also wired a large chunk of it to their home country, Romania.
“Churches depend on donations from generous members of the community to operate and serve those in need,” state Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a statement. “It is despicable that this crime ring would exploit the selfless acts of kindness displayed through these donations for selfish greed.”
The scam was uncovered in December when the Cape Coral Police Department became aware of 24 churches in Lee County that had been targeted. Soon, a probe into the thefts spread across multiple jurisdictions.
All six thieves are facing charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering, grand theft, and money laundering.