Costa Mesa police helped take down an international fraud ring that stole millions of dollars by selling nonexistent cars and other high-priced items, the department announced Friday.
An organized crime syndicate run by a Romanian national orchestrated the elaborate online schemes, according to an indictment filed in a New York federal court and unsealed Thursday.
Syndicate members flooded websites such as Cars.com, EBay and AutoTrader.com with ads that lured victims into paying for things that didn't actually exist, usually making $10,000 to $45,000 per sale, according to the indictment.
Suspects went as far as creating fake websites for car dealerships, emailing bogus invoices and producing convincing forged ownership titles, authorities said.
In 2007, Costa Mesa police Det. Eugene Kim began investigating fraud allegations that were ultimately linked to the syndicate, according to the department.
Officers from the department's Special Investigations Unit worked with federal authorities to develop the case against the syndicate, according to Times Community News.
Eventually, authorities said, law enforcement officials discovered fraud cases perpetrated by the group throughout the West Coast and across the nation.
In Thursday's indictment, federal officials pointed to Nicolae Popescu, a Romanian fugitive, as the syndicate's leader.
Six defendants in the case were arrested during an internationally coordinated takedown in December, according to a statement from the federal court. Popescu and six others remain at large, according to an announcement from U.S. Atty. Loretta E. Lynch in New York.