A 34-year-old Romanian man has been sentenced to 38 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for using an altered passport in an Internet scam in which he bilked more than 70 victims across the United States, including three in Idaho, into wiring him money to buy non-existent cars. Andrei Mirel was arrested in March at a U.S. Bank branch on ParkCenter Boulevard in Boise, where he'd presented a Kingdom of Netherlands passport showing him as “Keith Howard,” with a Boise address. He also had a Romanian driver's license and a Washington state ID card, both with his picture and real name.
U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge also ordered Mirel to pay restitution of $8,318 to the three Idaho victims, and general restitution of $200,780 to 71 other victims across the country. Mirel pleaded guilty to wire fraud, use of an altered passport, and improper entry by an alien on July 27.
Wendy Olson, U.S. Attorney for Idaho, said, “This was a heartless scheme to defraud many people desperately short on cash and desperately needing to purchase inexpensive and reliable vehicles. This type of scheme is not uncommon. Individuals purchasing vehicles sight unseen over the Internet run the risk of dealing with unscrupulous criminals on the other end of a telephone call. Caution should be used to make sure you are dealing with legitimate automobile dealers, or to make payment only with the vehicle in hand and the title duly endorsed.”
According to the plea agreement, Mirel and others advertised non-existent vehicles on the Internet, and purchasers used Western Union to wire him money for the cars. He then sent the money by wire transfer to European bank accounts, where it became untraceable. Mirel could have gotten up to 10 years in federal prison.