Federal jury convicts Romanian of Internet shopping fraud scheme

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Sept. 26, 2013 at 4:26 a.m.
Updated Sept. 27, 2013 at 4:27 a.m.

A Romanian man accused of defrauding people of more than $567,000 on eBay and Craigslist was convicted in a Victoria federal courtroom late Wednesday.

A jury found Doru Gabriel Trifu, 28, guilty of 33 counts of fraud by wire, radio or television.

Senior Judge John Rainey, who presided over the trial, set Trifu's sentencing for Dec. 2. Trifu faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a possible $250,000 fine on each count.

Trifu told his victims he was a U.S. soldier preparing for combat deployment to the Middle East. He never spoke with them over the phone, only by email because he needed to sell the item quickly.

He would instruct the victim to send the money via MoneyGram, and an escrow agent would accept the funds, complete the transaction and deliver the item. The item would never be delivered, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

Homeland Security agents learned a man wearing an Adidas-brand baseball cap used invalid passport numbers to collect the money from Wal-Mart stores in Corpus Christi, Aransas Pass, Portland, Alice, Beeville, Victoria, Cuero and Port Lavaca, so they distributed his photograph.

El Campo Wal-Mart employees called the agents July 28, 2011, after he again used the invalid passport numbers. The employees copied down his license plate number in the parking lot, according to court documents.

Trifu was arrested Nov. 15, 2012, in Orangevale, Calif.

Defense attorney Keith Weiser said one of the main issues during the four-day trial was the surveillance the government obtained from Wal-Mart.

"Because of the poor quality of the videos and the stills, the identity was an issue," he said.

Weiser also filed motions to suppress evidence, which Rainey denied.

Weiser contended in his motions that agents entered Trifu's home under a "ruse." They told Trifu that he might be a victim of identity theft. Afterward, they admitted their true intention for visiting, and Trifu gave agents consent to search his home. He withdrew it soon after.

The agents found and seized a camouflage makeup kit, laminating sheets, several partially used sheets of scratch-off letters and two passport photos of Trifu.

The search violated Trifu's Fourth Amendment rights, and when a person consents to a search after an illegal entry such as this, their consent is not valid. The items when viewed on their own also would not be illegal, Weiser wrote in his motion.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lance Watt, who prosecuted the case, explained the agents used this method to ensure a person staying at Trifu's house would get him to call the agents back.

"I always respect the verdict of a jury," Weiser said Thursday.



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