US Court Sends Riviera Maya Gang Member and Wife Behind Bars

A court in California sentenced a member of the notorious Riviera Maya Gang that skimmed ATM machines, cloned people’s credit cards and withdrew millions from them to more than seven years in prison and his wife to more than four, court officials confirmed to OCCRP on Thursday.

Riviera MayaRiviera Maya gang, a criminal organization that stole more than a billion dollars by compromising ATMs across Mexican tourist destinations. (Photo: OCCRP)Dumitru Gheorghe and his wife Maria were under FBI surveillance when he was tagged in a photo posted on Facebook in August 2021 with a comment that read “Total control over northern USA.” They were arrested a month later.

In his affidavit, the FBI agent who tailed the couple described them as "professional, international criminals" and members of the Riviera Maya Gang.

The organized crime group was led by Romanian Tudor Florian, aka the Shark, and named after the region in Mexico where it mainly operated. The gang is believed to have compromised up to 100 ATM machines along the riviera, including in tourist hotspots Cancun, Sayulita, Puerto Vallarta, and Tijuana.

Tudor was arrested in Cancun in 2021 on a warrant issued by Romania, but his lawyers have so far managed to prevent his extradition. He is accused of extortion, incitement to attempted murder, and of establishing an organized criminal group.

According to the FBI and Romanian law enforcement, Dumitru Gheorghe was part of Tudor’s inner circle and he, his wife and others "commonly move from city to city, and even country to country, skimming ATM cards so that by the time local banks and police have realized what is going on in one area, they are in a different jurisdiction and safe from arrest."

Gheorghe, his wife and even their minor children would install an electronic device called skimmer into the ATM machine. The skimmer would copy the data from cards inserted by customers. The gang would retrieve the device and copy the bank details onto a new card and use it to withdraw money from the accounts of the victims.

The family resided in Costa Mesa, California, but installed skimmers in San Bernardino County, San Diego County, and Los Angeles County. The FBI estimated that the couple made more than $15 million from 2018 until 2021.

During several days of surveillance, the couple was seen withdrawing an average of $5,000 a day. Most of the victims were clients of Bank of America.

The FBI seized from Gheorghe a black Mercedes AMG worth over $100.000. Investigators found that he was laundering money by converting it into cryptocurrency. Still, authorities were able to seize his wallet with $600,000 in it.