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Man who stole 2,000 checks from churches, religious institutions sentenced to 4 years in prison

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A Romanian man living in Florida has been sentenced to four years in federal prison and ordered to pay $1 million for a bank and wire fraud conspiracy which involved more than 2,000 checks from churches and other religious institutions, the Department of Justice said.

U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang sentenced Nicolae Gindac, a 52-year-old Romanian national and resident of Dania Beach, Florida, to 54 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Gindac was also ordered to pay restitution, along with co-conspirators, in the amount of around $1.1 million for the conspiracy, the DOJ said in a statement.

According to the DOJ, from June 2018 to January 2021, Gindac and at least five co-conspirators stole and negotiated checks from the U.S. mail intended for churches in Ellicott City and La Plata, Maryland. The “co-conspirators executed the thefts by driving to roadside mailboxes and directly removing the mail from the religious institutions’ mailboxes," the statement added.

Gindac, who was arrested in February, pleaded guilty in June for aiding in the theft and faced a maximum of 30 years in prison.

“Law enforcement arrested Gindac and recovered approximately $7,930.38 in cash, as well as a yellow-gold and diamond-encrusted Rolex men's watch. Gindac also used some of the stolen proceeds of the conspiracy to purchase a BMW 745i Sport sedan,” according to the statement.

The conspiracy involved 2,477 stolen checks worth $1,065,282.53.

Two of Gindac’s partners have been extradited from Romania and the United Kingdom to the U.S. for trial, while four others are awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty.

“As part of the scheme to defraud, Gindac and other co-conspirators opened fraudulent bank accounts at several victim financial institutions under false identities and negotiated stolen checks by way of ATMs,” the DOJ said.

“Gindac deposited stolen checks into fraudulent bank accounts held in the names of his family members, including a minor family member, and others. Gindac and his co-conspirators subsequently withdrew the stolen funds and spent them using debit cards associated with fraudulently opened bank accounts and other bank accounts,” it added.

Last month, a 52-year-old woman, Lisa Dawn Stabeno from Lubbock, Texas, was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in federal prison, as part of a plea deal, for using more than $450,000 from Church on the Rock funds for personal expenses, the DOJ said at the time.

Stabeno worked as an accounts manager for Church on the Rock’s “Dream Center,” an outreach program for “underserved individuals.”

In a separate fraud case reported by The Christian Post, a Maryland pastor was indicted in October for allegedly arranging fraudulent marriages of foreign nationals with American citizens to give them permanent residence in the U.S. in exchange for thousands of dollars.

Joshua Olatokunbo Shonubi, a 50-year-old pastor at NewLife City Church, Inc. in Hyattsville, allegedly arranged 60 fraudulent marriages between January 2014 and January 2021 to secure permanent residence for foreigners, according to the indictment, ABC 7News reported at the time.

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