Cheatham County deputies intercepted 3 men they say have been stealing tens of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting people in Middle Tennessee, and investigators say this crime spree has ties to international organized retail crime. Two of the suspects are foreign nationals, both from Romania. One of the suspects initially claimed to be from the Czech Republic and had fake ID’s to support that.
When questioned by detectives, the suspects confessed, saying they come to America for the express purpose of stealing money from Americans because as they say it is a victimless crime, since banks cover the loss. The bust went down December 12th. That’s when Cheatham County deputy Paul Ivey pulled over a Chevy Trailblazer on I-40 in Kingston Springs. Forrest Beard of Mississippi was driving and told the deputy the men traveling with him are from Europe. As it turned out, it turns out the men are foreign nationals from Romania.
Investigators say 31-year-old Madalin Palanga, aka Mike, is the brains behind the operation. He’s from Romania but had a fake ID from the Czech Republic. Palanga knows English and was able to communicate commands from the deputy to his friend from Romania, George Zica, 31. Police say a search of the vehicle yielded components of an international credit card skimming operation, including passports, Romanian currency, airplane tickets, fake IDs and close to $6,000 that investigators say is stolen cash.
Investigators also found laptops and 159 stolen Walmart gift cards. Lt. Shannon Heflin says, “They’ll shoplift these and steal thousands at a time. These are pin numbers, once they have this, all they have to do is go to a bank ATM, put your pin in.” And perhaps most alarming to Cheatham investigators, they found 8 skimmers that are sophisticated, wireless and fit seamlessly over the ones we all use at the store checkout.
Cheatham County officials have advised the Secret Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to join the case. Whether it will be handled federally is unknown. The men have a bond hearing Wednesday, and detectives fear if bond is granted the men have cash and passports and will flee the country. [Source: WKRN2 News]