A foreign national was sentenced to just over four years in prison and ordered to pay one million dollars in restitution for conspiracy involving the theft of more than 2,000 checks from religious institutions including churches.
In June, Nicolae Gindac, a Romanian national from Dania Beach, Florida, pleaded guilty for aiding in the theft of the checks from several religious institutions, according to authorities in the District of Maryland. He faced a maximum of 30 years.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang handed down a sentence of 54 months and ordered that Gindac, 52, pay more than a million dollars in restitution alongside his co-conspirators. According to the original indictment, Gindac and several others stole checks meant for churches in Ellicott City and La Plata, Maryland.
From June 2018 to January 2021, Gindac and at least five others stole checks from church mailboxes.
According to Maryland authorities, they “stole and negotiated checks from the U.S. mail intended for religious institutions. Gindac’s co-conspirators executed the thefts by driving to roadside mailboxes and directly removing the mail from the religious institutions’ mailboxes.”
The investigation into Gindac and his accomplices involved many departments, including the U.S. Postal Investigation Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Montgomery County Police Department, the Cary, North Carolina Police Department, and the Williamson County, Tennessee Police Department.
“Gindac deposited or was present when at least $64,811.03 was deposited into 13 fraudulent accounts,” authorities noted. “The fraudulent accounts received a total of approximately $139,057.58 from 143 stolen checks.”
When he was arrested in February this year, he had nearly $8,000 in cash, a gold and diamond-encrusted Rolex watch, and a BMW sports sedan he purchased with stolen money.
Several of his partners have also been extradited to the U.S. for trial, one from Romania and another from the United Kingdom. Four others are waiting to be sentenced after pleading guilty to their part in the conspiracy.
The original indictment also said that Diape Seck, of Maryland, was also allegedly involved in the conspiracy, helping Gindac and his partners opening more than 400 checking accounts at a bank where he was employed “relying predominantly on Romanian passports and driver’s license information” for the conspirators.
Authorities said that stolen checks to and from churches and other religious institutions were deposited into these fraudulent bank accounts.
“Gindac deposited stolen checks into fraudulent bank accounts held in the names of his family members, including a minor family member, and others,” the press release announcing Gindac’s sentencing explained. “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.”
Earlier this month, cash and checks were found in the walls of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, leading some to speculate that the money might be tied to a robbery at the church back in 2014.
“Church members stated that during a renovation project, a large amount of money-including cash, checks, and money orders-was found inside a wall,” Houston Police said. “Burglary and theft officers responded and began investigating.”