Five, including husband and wife, indicted in LIRR ID theft ring

Teodora Zaharia, left, and her husband Valer Zaharia, Teodora Zaharia, left, and her husband Valer Zaharia, right, were arraigned in Nassau County Court in Mineola on allegations that they set up the cameras and skimming machines at several LIRR stations, stealing more than $74,000 from riders. Photo Credit: Nassau District Attorney

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Five Romanian nationals have been indicted on grand larceny and fraud charges stemming from their involvement in an LIRR identity theft ring that targeted Nassau, Queens and Westchester residents and netted tens of thousands of dollars, prosecutors said.

A married couple -- Valer Zaharia, 38, and Teodora Zaharia, 27, who were living in Kew Gardens -- was arraigned in Nassau County Court in Mineola Monday for allegedly attaching cameras and card readers called skimmers to ticket vending machines in several LIRR stations to acquire bank card and pin numbers, subsequently stealing more than $30,000 from riders.

They pleaded not guilty and were ordered remanded without bail to the Nassau jail in East Meadow.

Prosecutors said they offered plea deals to the Zaharias, whose cooperation with police led to a search warrant of an Elmhurst apartment. There, cash, pinhole cameras, skimmers and flash drives containing stolen account numbers were found.

The deal would reduce Valer Zaharia's possible prison time from a maximum of 7 years to 2 to 6 years and Teodora Zaharia's from a maximum of 4 years to 1 year, prosecutors said. Both would have to plead guilty and agree to forfeit $52,000 in alleged criminal proceeds found in their apartment, prosecutors said.

The Manhattan attorneys representing the couple said their clients are innocent.

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"She is, at this point, terrified," said Shawn Turck, Teodora Zaharia's lawyer. He said she is a mother and has a law degree in Romania.

Still, Turck said, "Both deals are being considered."

Commenting on the denial of bail, Joseph Daniels, the husband's attorney, said, "They're not a danger to anyone."

The couple was arrested earlier this month, along with alleged co-conspirators Dorin Husa, 37, and Niculae Petre, 45, who were also indicted.

Husa and Petre are in custody in Queens and are to be arraigned in Nassau next month. Cezar Nastasa, who was also indicted, fled to the United Kingdom and there is a warrant for his arrest. Two other associates authorities are seeking also fled to the United Kingdom.

"This investigation is ongoing and the more we've looked, the more we've found," Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a statement. "Authorities are doing everything possible to protect the public and bring these defendants to justice."

The Zaharias installed the cameras and card readers on ticket vending machines at Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North stations, authorities said.

Petre and Husa are accused of using the stolen card information and PINs to make fake cards, which the Zaharias then used to steal money from ATMs, prosecutors said.

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The scam was discovered by accident last month when a customer at the LIRR Bayside station noticed a piece of plastic had broken off a ticket machine.

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