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South florida man arrested in identity theft case

July 14, 2010

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A defendant is alleged to have attached illegal scanners to automated teller machines in order to steal account information and rip-off tens of thousands of dollars. Mihal Arnautu, a Romanian national, is in custody in the Palm Beach County Jail. He is charged with 3 counts of fraud, grand theft, identity theft and one count of computer fraud and organized scheme to defraud. The defendant was arrested in Miami Beach by law enforcement officers from Palm Beach Gardens, Boca Raton and Miami Beach. He appeared at his bond hearing where a circuit court judge set bail at $68,000. However, he will not be released if even he posts the bond and he an immigration detainer.

Credit card fraud has been an increasing concern by state and federal law enforcement authorities. Lately, investigations are all leading back to Eastern Europe. All types of cyber and internet crimes have been emanating from that part of the world. Miami criminal lawyers have seen a rise in credit card fraud and identity theft cases that are being prosecuted in the Miami and South Florida area. Law enforcement authorities are cracking down on individuals that secretly place electronic skimming devices at ATMs. The "skimmers" are attached in an effort to capture victim's account numbers. Perpetrators also attach video cameras in order to gather pin numbers.

The police have gathered significant evidence against Arnautu. Surveillance videos retrieved in Palm Beach Gardens and Boca Raton depict the defendant placing skimmers on the machines and later removing them. A branch manager at Citibank located in Palm Beach Gardens reported that he located a skimmer at his branch. A further investigation conducted by the bank revealed that 28 accounts had be skimmed with loss exceeding $44,000. These cases of identity theft occurred between Palm Beach and Miami-Dade County. The Palm Beach County State Attorney was quoted as saying, "Some individuals fail to change their behavior after having been given the opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction through participation in a pre-trial program."

While this defendant was provided the opportunity to initially complete a pre-trial diversion program for first time offenders, it is a little surprising that the state attorney's office afforded the defendant that opportunity due to the nature of the case. Pre-trial diversion or intervention is available both in county and circuit. Prosecutors will often offer the program for minimal offenses. Only first-time offenders have the ability to participate in such a program. However, if a defendant successfully completes the conditions set forth by the prosecution, the case will be nolle prossed or dismissed within six months. Conditions include community service hours, certain classes and may also include a drug evaluation and treatment. While pre-trial intervention should never be accepted unless the prosecution can prove its case, it a guaranteed way to have the charges dropped. Once the charges are dropped a person can than go through the seal and/or expungement process.

Delray Beach Man Charged with "Skimming" Accounts of ATMs, Stealing Thousands, The Palm Beach Post, July 13, 2010.
Categories: Fraud
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