15 arrested across L.A. County in crackdown on fraudulent benefit cards

LAPD and federal officers make an arrest at an ATM in Tarzana on Feb. 2.
(Rebecca Ellis/Los Angeles Times)

Local and federal authorities have arrested 15 people in Los Angeles County suspected of cloning Electronic Benefit Transfer cards and using them to drain the funds of Southern California’s poorest residents, the Justice Department said Thursday.

More than 300 police officers and federal agents made the arrests early Wednesday while monitoring roughly 20 ATMs across the county, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles. The arrests — part of a fraud crackdown dubbed Operation Urban Justice — led to the recovery of 429 fake EBT cards and $129,000 in cash, authorities said.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said in a statement that 11 of the 15 people arrested were Romanian nationals. The Romanian National Police were involved in the operation along with U.S. social services and law enforcement agencies.


James Huse, special agent in charge with the L.A. field office of the Secret Service, said the arrests demonstrate “how a sophisticated and extensive criminal scheme can be disrupted and dismantled.”

Five of the people arrested — Adrian Corches, Neveah Rosa Ybarra, Mihai Cristea, Sandu Dumitrescu, and Constantin Rotaru — made initial court appearances Thursday afternoon, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.

Money meant for the lowest-income Los Angeles County residents is being siphoned from their EBT cards in record amounts.

“By stealing public benefits using counterfeit EBT cards, the defendant in these cases plundered the accounts of some of our community’s poorest residents — people who need these benefits to survive,” said U.S. Atty. Martin Estrada. “These actions are part of a larger assault on the EBT system, one which has caused tens of millions of dollars in losses.”

Over the last year and a half, EBT fraud has grown rampant across the county. In the early morning of the first few days of the month — soon after the state deposits people’s food and cash aid onto their EBT cards — criminals who have previously stolen the card data will head to the ATMs to withdraw the cash.

Los Angeles County officials say more than $19.6 million in EBT benefits was stolen in 2022 — more than 20 times the amount stolen in 2021.

LAPD officers and Secret Service agents arrested three Romanian nationals allegedly involved in EBT fraud on Feb. 2 in Tarzana and Hollywood. They were charged in federal court with bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, and unlawful use of an unauthorized access device.