Skimming criminal brings down gang and is convicted over highly-organised ATM frauds
Gang who targeted over 500 bank accounts taken down as head man faces prison
The conviction of a leading criminal has brought down a gang responsible for a series of ATM skimming incidents in which more than 500 bank accounts were targeted in just 10 weeks.
A 52-year-old career criminal was convicted of four charges including participating in an organised crime gang and money-laundering offences after an investigation into the nationwide ATM scam.
Iulian Craciun was found guilty this week at Trim Circuit Court in Co Meath after a trial that lasted more than three weeks.
The Irish Independent can reveal Craciun is considered by detectives as the “senior player” in a four-man Romanian gang responsible for a wave of ATM skimming incidents between September and December 2018.
Skimming involves criminals placing devices in ATMs. These then scan the details of a person’s card when it is placed in a machine.
Once installed, the devices are used to record data and PINs. The criminals then use this information for cloned cards to withdraw cash at different locations.
In 2018, officers from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) established that more than 550 ATM skimming crimes had been committed in 10 weeks.
However, since the arrest of Craciun and his accomplice, Danile Munteanu (34), in March 2019, there has not been one recorded incident of this type of crime in the entire country.
Munteanu is serving a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to stealing more than €120,000 from ATMs using cloned cards in a sophisticated operation in which bank machines in several counties were targeted over a five-month period.
The gang’s base was in Navan, Co Meath. Detectives are seeking to arrest two more members who have fled the country.
Craciun was considered the most senior player, and he has been in custody since a European Arrest Warrant was issued for him by authorities in the North in relation to 21 suspected ATM skimming offences in Omagh, Co Tyrone, in May 2015.
He had originally been granted bail for offences in the Republic, and is likely to be extradited to the North when he is finished whatever custodial sentence is imposed on him in April.
He has previous convictions for fraud offences linked to ATM scams in the UK, Spain, France and Romania.
“He would be very much considered the boss and the main driver of the gang’s activities in Ireland,” a source said.
When officers from the GNECB raided the gang’s base on Slane Road, Navan, in March 2019, they found a large amount of illegal skimming paraphernalia as well as two false passports.
Among the items they seized were a fake ATM front, hard drives, receiving devices, soldering equipment, laptops, about 500 blank cards to be used for storing data copied at ATMs and items including sat-navs, pinhole cameras and skimming devices.
Craciun was found guilty on Wednesday of possession of these articles, which he claimed to know nothing about.
The trial at Trim Circuit Criminal Court before Judge Elva Duffy was unique in that it was the first time evidence of the existence of an organised crime gang was given to a jury by a garda.
This kind of evidence presentation had previously only been heard before the non-jury Special Criminal Court.
The officer who led the detailed investigation, Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan, outlined the activities of Craciun’s gang.
He told the court this type of crime is highly skilled, complex and organised, with a number of people in the gang having different roles.
The gang had to carry out “research and development” to decide which ATMs were to be targeted.
Det Supt Cryan outlined the level of skill involved in building false ATM fronts and the use of complex technical devices.
The money-laundering charges of which Craciun was found guilty relate to the fact he allowed his bank account to be used.
“This was their operational bank account for their daily expenses,” a source said. “For example, it was used to pay motor tax for the car they were using and to pay rent for the accommodation they were staying in.”
Craciun has been found guilty of two gangland offences under Section 72 of the Criminal Justice Act, in that he was enhancing the abilities of the gang as well as participating in the organised crime organisation.
The spate of ATM skimming crimes in 2018 led the GNECB to launch an investigation, and it identified the gang who left Ireland and returned to Romania for Christmas that year.
Sources said the four gang members returned individually, and by mid-February of that year detectives suspect they were about to embark on another crime wave.
The gang targeted two ATMs in Dunshaughlin, Co Meath, on February 24 and 25, 2019, but by that time they were in the sights of the GNECB.
It had them under surveillance before they carried out the search and arrest operation in Navan, bringing an end to the enterprise.
They were the first ever suspects to be arrested for fraud offences in Ireland under gangland legislation.
Munteanu, who is considered “well down the food chain” compared with Craciun, was also arrested that day. Two other gang members have yet to be caught, but gardaí have identified where they are.
At Munteanu’s sentencing hearing in March 2021, Trim Circuit Criminal Court was told that hundreds of transactions in which cloned cards had been used to withdraw money from the accounts of Bank of Ireland customers were carried out in Monaghan, Louth, Meath, Westmeath, Galway, Kildare, Wicklow and Dublin.
Some customers had their entire accounts cleared out as amounts of up to €700 a time were withdrawn.
Those who were robbed of their money included juveniles and people in their 80s. One person had more than €7,000 stolen.
Bank of Ireland refunded all the money that was taken from accounts and reported the thefts to gardaí.
The court was told Munteanu has two previous convictions in the UK for similar crimes – the possession of a skimming device.
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