Six foreign nationals indicted in massive car-selling scheme

A federal grand jury has indicted six foreign nationals, alleging they ran an elaborate money-laundering operation that scammed hundreds of customers out of more than $4 million in fake Internet car sales on reputable websites.

Several state and local law enforcement agencies, including the Costa Mesa Police Department, provided substantial assistance during the investigation, according to a Department of Justice news release.

The 24-count indictment accuses the four men and two women of offering vehicles for sale on eBay Motors, Auto Trader, Yahoo! Autos,, Craigslist and other sites. They then collected electronic payments, siphoning the money to Europe, and never delivered the customers a car, the indictment says.

If convicted, the six defendants — from Germany, Russia, Romania and Latvia — could each face hundreds of years in prison, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office.

"This case demonstrates our ability to track down even the most sophisticated fraud artist who attempted to hide behind false identities and the perceived anonymity of the Internet," said Los Angeles-based U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr.

Authorities say the leaders of the scheme were Corneliu Stefan Weikum, 37, a Romanian national, and Yulia Mishina-Heffron, 23, a native of Yekaterinburg, Russia. Both are in federal custody in Nevada on charges related to bulk cash smuggling.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said that although the agency has seen laundering schemes of larger scope, few have been as sophisticated.

He said the defendants opened at least 110 bank accounts, provided fake invoices, and hacked into websites to change contact information from actual sellers so that vehicle identification numbers would match up.

"That gave them an air of legitimacy," Mrozek said. "It was large, but we have seen larger. But this one was fairly elaborate."

The charges include counts related to wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering over a 3 1/2-year period from about 2007 to 2010.

This story was reported by Times Staff Writer Matt Stevens.

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