The New York Post reports that the “low-tech” thieves used the money for cars and clothes, as well as wiring some of it to their home country, Romania. “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,” said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s commissioner Rick Swearingen.
The four Florida residents who have been arrested for their involvement in the scheme are 33-year-old Ionut Raducan, 28-year-old Marius Dumitru, 34-year-old Marius Dumitru, and 32-year-old Panait Dumitru. The two others wanted are 45-year-old Catalin Trandafir, and 39-year-old Simona Trandafir. All of the individuals are currently facing charges of grand theft, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit racketeering.
In total, it’s estimated that the thieves took over 1,500 checks from 636 churches, 355 of which were Florida-based. They had stationed themselves in Orlando, but the group would often travel out of state to steal from up to 85 churches in a single day. Some of churches were even stolen from more than once.
“Churches depend on donations from generous members of the community to operate and serve those in need,” added Attorney General Ashley Moody. “It is despicable that this crime ring would exploit the selfless acts of kindness displayed through these donations for selfish greed.” Police first launched the investigation back in December after 24 churches in Lee County, Florida alerted the authorities.