By SDCN Editor
San Diego, CA–A suspected organized crime figure from Romania was arrested and charged in a federal complaint today with masterminding a scheme to steal more than $5 million in California unemployment insurance benefits intended to help workers impacted by the pandemic.
According to the complaint, Constantin Sandu conspired with 214 unnamed Romanian co-conspirators across California and in Romania to fraudulently obtain millions of dollars in California unemployment insurance benefits by fabricating documents, creating fictitious accounts and businesses, and filing bogus claims with California’s Economic Development Department, which administers the state’s unemployment benefits.
“According to the complaint, this defendant presided over a vast network of international swindlers to exploit a program meant to help struggling California workers survive the pandemic,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “The pandemic may be waning, but we are still aggressively investigating allegations of COVID relief fraud. The scheme alleged in this case diverted millions of dollars from those who truly needed it.”
Sandu was arrested by FBI San Diego on March 1 at the Imperial Beach Border Patrol Station. He made his first appearance in federal court Thursday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison Goddard.
“These benefits were offered with the intention of helping struggling families stay afloat and were a critical lifeline for many,” said Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy of the FBI San Diego Field Office. Sandu’s alleged greed diverted those funds for his own personal gain. The FBI and our partners will continue to identify those who commit pandemic-related fraud and hold them accountable for their crimes.”
The complaint said that beginning in the fall of 2020 and continuing until late summer of 2022, Sandu and hundreds of unnamed co-conspirators learned and developed a process to receive the most benefits possible by using fraudulent identifications, falsified utility bills, falsified earnings statements, falsified W2s, fraudulent Health Insurance cards and non-existent companies. Additionally, Sandu learned to “backdate” or modify the EDD applications with an earlier unemployment start date to generate even bigger paydays.
Co-conspirators across California would share information, knowledge, and resources with Sandu, for Sandu to file claims for regular unemployment insurance and expanded pandemic unemployment insurance benefits from California EDD. Co-conspirators communicated with Sandu through Facebook or other electronic means or met with him in person to provide their Personal Identifying Information, known as PII.
According to the California Franchise Tax Board, none of the companies in the various W2s submitted for conspirators’ EDD applications was real. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield, none of the member identification numbers submitted for conspirators’ EDD applications was real.
In total, Sandu conspired with unnamed co-conspirators to fraudulently obtain no less than $5,207,687.00 in California Unemployment Insurance benefits.