A husband and wife duo, suspected leaders of a Romania-based transnational organized crime group were charged in federal court with laundering $1.4 million from dozens of small thefts, robberies, and swindling money from elderly victims in San Diego County. 

Eduard and Floarea Ghiocel were transferred from state to federal custody, and made their first appearance in federal court on Tuesday. 

Also charged are four of the Ghiocels’ family members or close associates, including Gabriel Ghiocel, Marius Ghiocel, Larisa Ghiocel, and Argentina Alexandru. Those defendants are the Ghiocels' two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a girlfriend of one of the sons, according to a criminal complaint.

 All defendants are alleged associates of the larger Valcea Romanian Transnational Crime Group.

The defendants allegedly took part in 17 jewelry thefts between March 2020 and September 2022 in “elderly communities'' in San Diego, while the Valcea Crime Group is suspected in “dozens'' of similar crimes throughout the county, according to prosecutors.

The complaint said the Ghiocels also filed false unemployment claims to steal about $32,250 in California unemployment insurance benefits intended to help workers impacted by the pandemic.

The complaint states that the crimes typically target senior citizens in shopping center parking lots or residential areas. Victims are often distracted by the suspects while their jewelry or other valuables are taken through sleight-of-hand techniques.

The Ghhiocels laundered the proceeds of their crimes by pawning expensive gold jewelry and watches for cash in jewelry stores in Los Angeles, according to the complaint. Prosecutors say they systematically laundered that cash along with the stolen unemployment insurance proceeds by sending wire transfers to Romania via Money Service Businesses, and by purchasing gold bars, gold coins, and high-end luxury vehicles from locations in Southern California and shipping these items to Romania. 

In total the Ghiocel Sub-Group repatriated $1,367,652.02 in assets from illicit funds to Romania, the complaint said.

“This international organized crime ring targeted some of the most vulnerable of our population. It's important that we send a message to criminals that the safety of everyone in our community matters,” said San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit. “I want to thank the investigators and prosecutors who continue to work toward justice on behalf of the victims.”

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