Mexico Arrests Leader of Gang that Stole a Billion by Manipulating ATMs

Acting on an extradition request made by Romania, Mexican authorities arrested on Thursday Florian Tudor, the alleged leader of an organized criminal group that stole more than a billion dollars by compromising ATMs in tourist destinations across Mexico.

Riviera MayaHead of Riviera Maya Gang arrested. (Photo: OCCRP)Mexico’s General Prosecutor announced the arrest, saying that the Romanian citizen was suspected of organized crime, extortion and attempted aggravated homicide. Romania asked for his prompt arrest because prosecutors in Bucharest were worried he could flee the Latin American country and they would not be able to track him down.

A Bucharest court sentenced in March six members of Tudor’s so-called Riviera Maya Gang to prison terms of between three to 10 years for attempted murder, blackmail and the creation of a criminal group dedicated to the large-scale cloning of bank cards in Mexico.

OCCRP, Quinto Element Lab, Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad (MCCI) and Rise Project published last year an investigation that revealed the Riviera Maya gang's operations which accounted for 12% of the world’s illegal skimming market.

Santiago Nieto, the head of Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF), who ran the investigation known as “Operation Caribbean” that was initiated by the Mexican and U.S. governments welcomed the arrest on Twitter, as did Alberto Capella, the former head of the Ministry of Public Security in Quintana Roo.

“I feel very proud to be Mexican and today I also feel very proud that several of its institutions, without philias, phobias nor petty interests, carried out the law regardless of the risks and threats,” said Capella.

The Riviera Maya gang members are believed to have been systematically stealing bank card numbers to copy them onto blank plastic cards. They would later use those cards to withdraw money at ATM machines in other parts of the world.

Mexican prosecutors have also been after Tudor since March 2019, when he was found to be illegally possessing weapons only armed forces are allowed to have. Mexican police have opened at least five investigations against him for financial operations of illicit origin, crimes against biodiversity and for organized crime, according to freedom of information requests.

The group members are believed to have been using devices called “skimmers,” which they would insert into the ATM machines to read the magnetic stripe of bank cards. A small camera would also record the moment the person enters the PIN code. Armed with this data, they could clone the victim's card and use it for purchases or to withdraw cash.

By 2017, Tudor’s company Top Life Servicios operated more than 100 ATMs under the bank brand Multiva throughout the Riviera Maya and in other tourist sites in Mexico.

"I am not a criminal and never will be," Tudor said in an email exchange with OCCRP in June last year. "I have never killed anyone and I have never ordered anyone killed."