Thieves steal $740,000 from churches by taking checks from mailboxes
FORT MYERS, Fla. (WINK) - Police in Florida say they busted a group of thieves who took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to steal nearly $750,000 in donations to churches nationwide.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says six people stole at least 1,700 checks out of church mailboxes during the coronavirus pandemic. They took more than $740,000 from 600 churches and church schools nationwide.
“It was almost a perfect crime. As COVID-19 swept the country, some church members stayed home from in-person church services and mailed in their offerings,” said Shane Pollard with FDLE.
The suspects operated out of Orlando but hit churches in Lee and Collier counties. One of the victims was Cape Coral’s Grace Church, where $7,000 was stolen.
Investigators say the suspects used the money to buy clothes, food, vehicles and entertainment. They also sent large amounts of money overseas to Romania.
“They would spread the checks between themselves to be deposited into various bank accounts using ATMs. Once the money posted to an account, they withdrew the funds immediately in cash before the banks realized the checks were actually made payable to churches and not the suspects,” Pollard said.
Four suspects – identified as Ionut Raducan, Panait Dumitru and two named Marius Dumitru – are in custody. Police are searching for two more: Catalin Trandafir and Simona Trandafir.
Multiple churches affected say the stolen money was helping them stay afloat during the pandemic as well as helping people in their communities make ends meet.
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