Three Members of the Riviera Maya Gang to Face Charges in Mexico

Published: 21 June 2021

Riviera MayaRiviera Maya gang, a criminal organization that stole more than a billion dollars by compromising ATMs across Mexican tourist destinations. (Photo: OCCRP)

By OCCRP, Quinto Elemento Lab, MCCI and Rise Project

Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office announced last week that three members of the so-called Riviera Maya gang will be tried in connection to compromising ATM machines across the country to steal credit card details from tourists and withdraw money from their accounts.

The three Romanians include the gang’s leader Florian Tudor, who was arrested on May 28 and is currently being held in Mexico’s highest security prison as he fends off an extradition request to Romania. The two others are his right-hand man, Cosmin Adrian Nicolae, and Gabi Alin Stroe, who are both under preventive detention in Mexico City.

A third close associate of Tudor, Lebanese businessman Chakib Naif Ifram Al Boustany, was also captured in connection to the gang’s criminal activity.

Tudor has previously described Stroe as his cousin. He was the alleged target of an 2018 assassination attempt carried by Tudor’s former bodyguard in front of their Cancun headquarters. But an investigation by OCCRP and partners found that the official version of events was full of inconsistencies.

Nicolae, 39, is from Tudor’s hometown of Craiova and held a top-tier position in the Riviera Maya gang. He was in charge of placing and keeping tabs on the ATMs installed by their firm, Top Life Servicios, and also bribed technicians from other ATMs companies to allow the gang to place skimmers inside other banks’ cash machines.

He was shareholder or power of attorney in seven of the gang’s Mexican companies, including their real estate firm Inmobiliaria Investcun, their currency exchange store chain Brazil Money Exchange, and Intaller, which purchased their ATMs.

On March 30, 2019, Nicolae and Tudor were stopped at a police checkpoint while driving south of Cancún near Puerto Morelos on a popular tourist highway. Officers found an illegal 9mm pistol and ammunition, along with more than US$25,000 cash in pesos and dollars, according to the Quintana Roo Attorney General’s Office (FGR).

They claimed the cash was intended to pay workers constructing a residential complex on a 1,400-hectare parcel of land owned by Al Boustany, 46, who owns a pawn shop in Cancún.

Six weeks later, Mexican police and marines raided Al Boustany’s ranch, Top Life’s offices and Tudor’s Cancún home, which allegedly also served as the gang’s headquarters.

In retaliation, Tudor and Al Boustany launched legal complaints of corruption and abuse of authority against officials involved in the raids.

Tudor claimed the real purpose of the raid had been to steal jewelry, art, cash and computers worth more than $2.7 million. From Al Boustany’s jungle ranch, officers allegedly stole horses, racing dogs and tractors, amongst other vehicles, local media reported.

Tudor, Al Boustany and Nikolae launched an effective media campaign against authorities, in which they accused the state Secretary of Security of persecuting them.

At a press conference held at Tudor’s home, Al Boustany told reporters that the search warrant on his ranch was based on claims that “we have 40-50 armed persons, (...) that we have a ‘security house’ in Puerto Morelos where we ‘kidnap people’.”

He added that the three bags of gun cartridges found at his ranch were planted there by federal police and the prosecutor’s office.

All four men were arrested despite filing numerous amparos  — a form of human rights protection under Mexican law — against their detention and extradition.

Since 2019, Nicolae has filed seven amparos against arrest, extradition, and the blockage of his bank accounts, Stroe one and Al Boustany five.