Theft of over $ 106,000 from cash machines (ATMs) in western Pennsylvania using skimming equipment has earned Romanian national a three-and-a-half-year federal prison sentence .
Janos Vaczi was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Erie by Judge Susan Paradise Baxter following a more than two-hour hearing held via Zoom.
Vaczi, 51, pleaded guilty in April to one count of access device fraud and three counts of aggravated identity theft for installing skimming equipment on numerous ATMs in Meadville , Erie and other parts of northwestern Pennsylvania.
A skimmer is a card reader that can be disguised to look like an ATM. The skimmer accessory collects bank card numbers and PIN codes, which are then used to make counterfeit cards. Skimming is the type of fraud that occurs when an ATM is compromised by a protein skimmer.
Vaczi would have entered the United States illegally in March 2018, according to federal authorities. Of Romanian nationality, he also bore the pseudonyms of Daniel Tudor and Gyula Lakatos.
The FBI accused Vaczi of installing a skimming device in an ATM at a Marquette Savings Bank in Vernon Township outside Meadville in May 2019. The data collected was then used to create fake debit cards and stealing thousands of dollars from bank accounts around Meadville and Erie. , according to the criminal complaint.
According to the US Attorney’s Office, Vaczi and anonymous co-conspirators installed skimming equipment between March 2018 and June 22, 2019 at numerous ATMs across the region to obtain bank account and identity information. personal. The information was placed on other cards and then used in various ATMs to illegally obtain at least $ 50,000 from 264 bank accounts in the Meadville and Erie areas.
During the investigation, the FBI searched a storage locker Vaczi had rented in the Pittsburgh area.
Inside the storage locker, the FBI discovered hundreds of cards containing stolen bank account information, which allowed Vaczi and his co-conspirators to use the cards at various ATMs to steal funds. . Vaczi’s storage locker also contained $ 10,000, ATM skimming equipment, and numerous fake passports and international driver’s licenses bearing his picture but with different names.
Shortly before the FBI apprehended Vaczi, he attempted to bury hundreds of cards containing stolen identity information near a grocery store in the Pittsburgh area, officials said. Officers noticed that the ground had been disturbed in the area where Vaczi was standing and discovered the maps soon after.
In total, Vaczi defrauded 350 bank customers, according to Christian Trabold, the deputy US lawyer who pursued the case.
Vaczi was a “professional international criminal,” Trabold told court on Monday’s sentencing. “He traveled to the United States for the sole purpose of scamming the Americans.”
Trabold had pleaded for a prison sentence of up to nine years for Vaczi.
Andrew Lipson, Vaczi’s federal public defender, had requested jail time because Vaczi had been held in the Erie County Jail since his arrest in June 2019.
Prior to sentencing, Vaczi, speaking through an interpreter, apologized to the court.
“I have no words to say how much I regret what I did,” he said.
However, Baxter was not moved, saying she was “not sure” Vaczi had been honest with investigators, including with her identity.
“White collar crime is not something that is taken lightly by the law or this court,” she said.
The judge ordered Vaczi to serve 18 months on the access device fraud count, followed by two years in prison for each of the three counts of aggravated identity theft. However, Baxter ordered that the prison sentence for the three counts of aggravated identity theft be served at the same time.
Vaczi must also serve a total of three years of supervised release or probation after his release from prison.
Baxter also ordered Vaczi to pay $ 106,341.07 in restitution to two banks – $ 94,031.32 to Marquette Savings and $ 12,3097.75 to Citizens.
Keith Gushard can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at [email protected]