Romanian-U.S. ATM Fraud Bust Reveals Suspects’ Ties to Riviera Maya Gang

Published: 07 December 2023

Riviera Maya Equipment SeizedPolice found that the suspects have direct ties to the Riviera Maya Gang, a group that has similarly defrauded billions from its victims around the world. (Photo: FBI, License)

By Henry Pope

A joint U.S.-Romanian crackdown against an organized crime group responsible for a multi-million dollar ATM scam revealed that the group is associated with Mexico’s Riviera Maya Gang, who have similarly defrauded more than a billion dollars from its victims.

Romanian police, coordinating with the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, recovered more than US$1 million in cash and cryptocurrencies across 84 raids against a crime group behind multiple ATM skimming operations.

The three-year-long investigation, however, uncovered that many of the 48 arrested suspects are also linked to Florian Tudor, a.k.a. “The Shark”, the alleged leader of the notorious and violent Riviera Maya Gang, which operated out of Cancún, Mexico.

The gang, named by an OCCRP investigation into their illegal activities, has employed similar ATM skimming tools across Mexico.

In a nutshell, criminals attach skimmers to an ATM, which can then read a person’s credit card information and copy it onto multiple blank cards. Small cameras hooked up to the device record the inputted PIN.

Once completed, the fake cards can subsequently withdraw cash from the account from multiple places simultaneously.

Banks can quickly realize an account’s card is compromised, so utilizing multiple fake cards to withdraw the maximum allowable sum from several locations allows groups to make out like bandits in a relatively short amount of time.

In this instance, the joint FBI-Romanian police operation found that the group scammed their victims out of the U.S. and laundered the money back to Romania via Western Europe.

Though Tudor’s 1,000 member strong gang hustled its victims out of Mexico, he is Romanian and a former resident of Craiova, a city whose downtown core boasts sleek and modern luxury apartments.

Some of Craiova’s newer buildings are the result of investments stemming from his ill-gotten gains, OCCRP found.

Tudor was ultimately arrested in Mexico in 2021; Romanian authorities immediately filed an extradition request to see him prosecuted back home, though they have yet to succeed in doing so.

The case against him received approval by Romania’s Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism in November 2023.

The various charges against Tudor also include attempted murder. He denied such accusations in an email exchange with OCCRP in June 2020.

As for his recently captured associates, they face multiple counts of bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, and visa fraud.