• Recently, DIOCT Craiova seized over $250,000 in the southwestern Romania region of Oltenia, a concealed shipment from the USA.
• “Half of the amount came from card theft, while the remaining $120,000 is suspected to have come from begging,” judiciary sources have told Libertatea.
• The phenomenon of Romanian illegal migration to the US, less known in the country, is based on exploiting hundreds of trafficking victims each year. Roma women and children are the most vulnerable to blackmail.
• “Romanian citizens trafficked through Mexico seek political asylum in the USA, claiming they left Romania because they were discriminated against, on account of being Roma,” noted the US Department of Homeland Security, back in the days of the Obama administration.
• In 2017, out of 449 Romanian citizens caught after having illegally entered the USA, just 49 received political asylum, but Romanians continue to come in large groups, brought over by ‘tour operators based in Craiova.
• In 2018, the FBI noted an increase in illegal immigration at the northern border of the US, via what the federal agents call the “Canadian Pipe”.
• “Based on our research, we believe the incidents at the border are part of a transnational Romanian criminal group, involved in human trafficking and various forms of theft. It is believed that the people trafficked to the United States by these networks are forced to pay their debt by committing crime and paying the money to high-ranking members of the criminal group,” says a US Border Patrol report filed in one of the traffickers’ criminal cases at the Dolj County Court.
• The networks are currently highly active, as evidenced by DIOCT captures and FBI inquiries to the Romaian authorities. Romanian prosecutors are currently investigating the situation, following the complaint of a family trafficked in Toronto.
by Delia Marinescu, Alexandra Nistoroiu, Adriana Oprea, and Cătălin Tolontan
When they seized the shipment, they found three parcels of money. In total, plainclothes policemen counted over $250,000, which had come directly from the United States. The bills had been stuffed into boxes and were discovered at a location in Craiova, before the recipients could take hold of them.
This is one of the most recent captures made by DIOCT prosecutors and police officers from the Brigade for Combating Organized Crime. The stream of dirty money on the US-Romania route has come under the attention of the FBI many years ago.
Los Angeles, the dream of Romanians illegally smuggled into the USA
The dollars had come from California. “The area around Los Angeles – and the state of California in general – is the favorite of human trafficking networks coordinated out of Craiova. That’s how the traffickers get paid by those they smuggled over the border,” explains a source within the judiciary for Libertatea.
Sometimes, the stolen money or gold is retained by Dutch or German authorities, where the packages stop for a layover and are checked with X rays. At other times, such as now, its discovered at the end of the line, in Romania. It’s all chalked up as collateral loss, which the four Craiova-based Roma clans that coordinate human trafficking to the USA, Sărdaru, Chiciu, Miclescu, and Poenaru, endure without too much disruption. In most cases, those they exploit are also ethnic Romas.
The money is collected via bank card fraud, theft, or begging, the latter of which is not illegal in several American states.
In the case of the recently seized package containing more than $250,000, “half of the amount came from card theft, while the remaining $120,000 is suspected to have come from begging,” states the same judiciary source.
But what happens when the money stops coming in altogether?
The traffickers bury the trafficked in debt by hiking airplane and hotel prices
In the Craiova neighborhood of Fața Luncii, is home to many of those who left for the United States. They send money to their families back home, as well as to those who helped them cross the border illegally. The amount paid to a network in order to leave Romania and be introduced into the United States ranges from EUR3,000 to EUR5,000 per person.
Mexican, Canadian, and American authorities have found that most of the people trafficked are ethnic Romas, with large families. As such, the debt incurred for the whole family can exceed several tens of thousands of Euros, which almost turns these people into postmodern slaves.
To bury them in debt, the interlopers’ networks resort to the tactics used by corrupt civil servants in public acquisitions. They hike up the costs.
The members of the criminal group fund the journeys of the people they recruit and, in order to put them further into debt, obtain false justifying documents (plane ticket invoices, hotel bookings etc.), which list amounts far higher than the real prices
Criminal file no. 11491/63/2013 at the Dolj County Court
Generally speaking, the traffickers make sure not to bail on their clients. Even if they overstate their promises in Romania, telling them they will offer them jobs and homes in the USA, once there, they try not to leave their people, so as not to wreck their reputation and avoid complaints that could expose the network.
“You never know when you wind up with a bomb in hour house”
When internal crises occur, high-ranking network members don’t shy away from threatening those who endanger their business with bombs, especially those who dupe clients or start talking to the authorities.
This was the case with the 2012 DIOCT-taped conversation between Popescu Luigi ‘Luis’ Cristinel, Sărdarus subordinate, and another network member who had settled in the USA and is listed in the transcripts as ‘D’.
D: You heard what Dan’s doing? Seven or eight or ten families want to go file a complaint, ‘cause they came here through him. He’s tripping, I told you he was tripping.
LUIS: He tricked people, man.
D: Just have a couple of words with him. “Yo, Dan, I hear you’ve been tripping, ‘cause I hear that… Listen, people know you and it won’t be long before you wind up with a bomb in your house and, listen, you’ve started talking about me and my friend.”
How they sequester the families of those in debt
Should a lack of due payment occur, they pressure the families. This transcript, also from the Dolj County Court, shows the traffickers discussing a $5,000 debt.
Trafficker 1: I take my margins, son, ‘cause what if some braindead dude feels like fleeing with my car in Los Angeles?
Trafficker 2: So?
Trafficker 1: So I hold his wife until he pays up and then release the wife.
Trafficker 2: Hell kill her if that guy doesn’t pay up.
Trafficker 1: No, man, I keep her by my side there and if she tries to run, the guy in the car will keep her, ‘cause you don’t kill people, man, kill them for $5,000. He’ll keep her inside the house and hand him the phone and say, “Yo, call your momma, your pops, your family, when they give us the $5,000.” Thats how people treat each other out there.
Not all those brought to the States manage to raise the money they owe and some return to Romania. Recently, a scandal ignited in Craiova.
The traffickers broke into the debtors’ house, beat them up, and took their TV
“A family that had returned from the USA wound up with Sărdaru clansmen breaking into their home. They hadn’t paid their debt, so they were threatened and had their TV and other valuables stolen. A scandal broke out and the people robbed filed a complaint with the Police,” recalls an officer.
“When the police started investigating this, another family went over to the plaintiffs and mediated the conflict, for fear the latter would divulge too much about the network,” added the same source.
Everything was swept under the rug because “people are disenfranchised, poor, and dependent on the traffickers.”
The new clans, Miclescu și Poenaru, specialize in bank card theft
Lately, Romanian IT fraud has been on the rise and has managed to alert both the US and Mexico. “The Mexicans also figured out that the thieves can’t tell the difference between American and Mexican money. Those who steal money off cards, the Craiova scammers, are also going strong in Cancun, which is packed with tourists,” states a source within the judiciary.
Two of the clans, Sărdaru și Chiciu, are traditional structures, whose business in sending people to the USA has a long history. Their leaders are Filip Sărdaru and Dumitru Chiciu, known in Craiova as ‘Paris’.
According to DIOCT and FBI data, two other families, Miclescu and Poenaru, handle the shipping of Romanians specialized in card theft to the USA. Their leaders are Stazian Miclescu (aka ‘Stazică’) and Altafin Poenaru, respectively, as chief of operations, and Gabi Alin Poenaru (aka ‘Patrian’), the head of the family, who rarely ever leaves Romania.
In 2017, there were half as many illegal Romanian migrants to the US as Cubans
Of all the European countries, Romania tops the list of highest levels of illegal migration to the US by a long shot. Recent US Borders and Customs Protection data shows that Romanians are make up one of the largest groups of foreigners caught entering the United States illegally.
In 2017, 449 Romanians entered the USA illegally.
For comparison purposes, there were only 15 illegal migrants from Hungary, 7 from Moldova and one from Serbia. It’s true that Hungarians and citizens of the other EU member states no longer need a visa to enter the US, so there’s no reason for them to cross the border illegally.
That number, the 450 Romanians who entered the USA illegally, is significant when compared with the number of illegal migrants from countries that traditionally supply clandestine entries into the USA, such as Cuba (702), Peru (406), the Dominican Republic (404), Colombia (201), Venezuela (95), and China (1400).
In 2016, 2,018 illegal Romanian migrants were caught at the border, 2,006 of which came through Mexico
This is the evolution of the number of Romanians caught entering America illegally over the past years, according to US Customs and Border Protection:
• 2007 – 82
• 2008 – 66
• 2009 – 79
• 2010 – 412
• 2011 – 609
• 2012 – 938
• 2013 – 620
• 2014 – 868
• 2015 – 405
• 2016 – 2,018! (of which 2,006 through Mexico)
• 2017 – 450
• 2018 – 449
The year 2016 indicates a spectacular boost. The exact correlation is difficult to ascertain, but some facts are known and have been documented by the authorities in several countries: Romania, USA, Mexico, and Canada, as well as others, such as the Netherlands and Germany, typical layover destinations for Romanian migrants headed for the United States.
1 – Most of the plane tickets used by illegal migrants were purchased via Craiova-based tour operators.
2 – The migrants’ top counties of origin are Dolj and Vâlcea, seconded by Mehedinți and Argeș.
3 – In 2012-2013, DIOCT, FBI and the Mexican police documented the Craiova-based networks Sărdaru and Chiciu. The two were sued in Romania in 2015, the trial ended with a failure for the prosecution, and in 2016, the boom of immigrants later revealed to be illegal followed.
The ‘Canadian pipe’ started leaking in 2018
Once Canada no longer required visa for Romania, in 2018, the FBI shifted focus to what the American agents dub the ‘Canadian Pipe’, according to their Romanian counterparts.
In 2017, 450 Romanians entered the US illegally: 433 of them crossed the Mexican border illegally, 13 came in from Canada and 4 more were discovered at the coastal borders, by the ocean.
In 2018, out of a total of 449 Romanian citizens to have entered the US illegally, 250 came in from Mexico, 196 from Canada, and 3 by way of the ocean.
The figures only indicate people apprehended by the American authorities.
“Political asylum and stuff”
When apprehended, most Romanian citizens seek political asylum on the grounds of racial persecution. The traffickers instruct the asylum seekers to talk as little as possible and indicate what they need to say.
Don’t let them run their mouths out there, like idiots, have them talk more again, ‘cause they’re women. Have them say a few words… A few words: ‘Political asylum and stuff, our children are being persecuted, we want to build a future for them.’
Phone conversation taped by DIOCT in 2012
When caught, even the traffickers resort to the same tactic. They claim to be helping their fellow Roma ethnics to cross the border illegally because they’re being persecuted in Romania and want to go to other countries. “I show that the firm respect for some minorities’ rights displayed by the states in question determine us to emigrate,” wrote ring leader Dumitru Chiciu, aka ‘Paris’, before DIOCT prosecutors, in a full confession of his deeds.
“Tell them how you were banned from the stores and the restaurants”
In another conversation, also included in case file 11491/63/2013, a ring leader called Popescu Luigi Cristinel, aka ‘Luis’, a subordinate to Sărdaru, teaches Cristian, one of the men sent to the US, how to seek political asylum.
Luis: You prove you’re a gypsy, shell go dressed as a gypsy, Monica, too, and your wife.
Luis: And tell them how you were banned from stores and restaurants, for starters, and then you also have to tell them a more brutal incident that you and your families went through. That’s the most important thing.
Cristian: That’s the most important. Me, for instance, I’ve had surgery on one arm. “Look, man, they broke my arm, they broke into my home when my kids were there, they wanted to kill us, hang us, I sold my house to leave there.” I even have the papers that show I left my house, those papers (…)
Luis: A good idea for each of you, the house, the kids got scared, they barged in on you, your enemies…
Cristian: They wanted to set my house on fire, man, the whole village got together to set my house on fire.
Luis: Yeah, they came in with axes and stuff, killed the animals you kept.
Cristian: Yeah, like that thing with the ID, when they set the gypsy on fire. Ill put that one in, too.
In the first half of 2016 alone, the record-breaking year, nearly 1,8000 Romanian citizens were caught crossing the border between Mexico and the United States illegally. American magazine Foreign Policy noted that most of the 1,800 sought asylum, based on ethnic discrimination and racial hatred.
“This is trafficking, my brother. It’s at international level”
The traffickers themselves began fearing the proportions this phenomenon had taken on.
“I can’t do it, can’t get into it, my brother. You know what went down there? The FBI, straight from America, there’s 490 people in nine months who entered America, 490 of whom are gypsies. You know what this means? It means trafficking, my brother. It’s at international level (…) There’s a hub right here,” says a DIOCT-taped conversation from August 29, 2012, between a Romanian trafficker and his accomplice, a California-based Romania.
Despite all their attempts to convince American authorities, very few Romanians receive political asylum. According to the stats of the Department of Homeland Security, the numbers are:
• 2015: 27
• 2016: 45
• 2017: 49
The traffickers discuss a corrupt American judge!
In another conversation, the same Luis, a lieutenant in the Sărdaru network, talks to Dan, a California-based Romanian trafficker, about a few conationals the network had brought in, who had reached the political asylum-seeking stage. Their end goal was not necessarily for the Argeș County denzens to receive asylum, but to see them released, so they can disappear.
LUIS: Listen, I got two of them over in San Diego and an intervention might be in order.
Dan: I know, they’re from Pitești, I got them already. I called the sheriffs yesterday, they’re in FEDERAL. I think they’re interviewing them tomorrow or something and then transferring them to EMIGRATION. (…)
LUIS: Check it, CARDENAS is related to the judge or the prosecutor, I hear.
Dan: I know, him and the judge are brothers-in-law.
LUIS: So what the hell is he keeping them in there for so long, he wants more money, or what?
Dan: No. I’ll tell you a secret that you don’t know. Their family also owns the prison.
LUIS: EL CENTRO?
Dan: Yeah, its private. That’s not a FEDERAL BUILDING. The government pays money for each of them, which is nearly 10,000 a month.
LUIS: Damn it, and now they have this next week.
Dan: Yeah, I’m going over again on Thursday to see whats going on there. My plan, and Ill tell him this when we have a chat, is that, if nothing happens to them, if they get postponed again, I’ll talk to the news. There’s CHANNEL ELEVEN, CHANNEL THIRTEEN, have the news come out. What’s the problem with these folks, why are they keeping them for so long?
LUIS: Well, never in history did they keep anyone for so long, they never kept anyone for so long since we’ve known each other.
Dan: See, they’re just playing us.
With evidence like this, it seemed that the fate of the Romanian traffickers was sealed. But that was not the case.
(Translated by Ioana Pelehatăi)
Versiunea în limba română: Patru clanuri din Craiova trec peste granița SUA mii de români, iar americanii au prins 4.190 doar în ultimii cinci ani! DIICOT și FBI au documentat cazuri în care oamenii sunt puși la cerșit, furat și prostituție ca să achite datoria către traficanți