Accused Romanian Phishers Extradited to U.S. to Face Charges

Two men authorities tied to a phishing scheme pleaded not guilty to charges of identity theft and bank fraud after being extradited to the United States. The phishing scheme targeted customers of well-known financial institutions, including Capital One and Citibank.

Federal authorities have extradited two Romanian men to the United States to face charges of operating a phishing scheme targeting customers of several financial institutions.

Officials at the FBI announced Sept. 29 that Petru Bogdan Belbita, 25, of Craiova, Romania, and Cornel Ionut Tonita, 28, of Galati, Romania, have been brought to the United States to face charges of conspiracy and aggravated identity theft. Both men pleaded not guilty to the charges.

According to investigators, the duo were snared as part of an investigation into a complaint concerning a fraudulent e-mail message made to appear as if it originated from Connecticut-based People's Bank. The e-mail directed victims to a computer in Minnesota that had been compromised and used to host a counterfeit People's Bank Internet site. During the investigation, it was determined that the defendants had allegedly engaged in similar phishing schemes against many other financial institutions and companies, including Citibank, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Comerica Bank, Wells Fargo & Co., eBay and PayPal, authorities said.

The two men were indicted by a federal grand jury in New Haven, Conn., in January 2007. Five other Romanian citizens were charged in the indictment as well. Belbita was arrested in Canada on Jan. 24, 2009, and brought to the United States Sept. 25. He appeared before a federal judge in Connecticut Sept. 29 and pleaded not guilty. Tonita was arrested in Croatia in July and extradited to the United States Sept. 4. He pleaded not guilty six days later.

Both men face one charge of conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with access devices, one charge of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and an additional charge of aggravated identity theft. The conspiracy to commit bank fraud charge is the most serious and carries a maximum term of 30 years in prison.