Three Orange County men were among 16 people charged Thursday with participating in what FBI officials said is one of the biggest auto theft rings in Oregon history.
The arrests culminated a two-year undercover investigation during which a federal agent, posing as the owner of an automobile body shop in Portland, infiltrated two sophisticated rings that reportedly had stolen more than 250 vehicles in Oregon and Washington, FBI Special Agent John Castricone said.
The undercover agent also bought cars in California as part of an insurance fraud scheme that allegedly involved the three Orange County men.
Arrested at their homes by federal agents Thursday morning were: Jon L. Dumitrasku, 45, of Buena Park; Vasile Bucsa, 21, of Fullerton, and Ioan Stoica, 46, of Anaheim. They were held at Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles.
Each faces federal charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, fraud by wire, and aiding and abetting, which could result in a maximum of five years in prison, authorities said.
"The men arrested in Orange County came to our attention towards the middle of our investigation," Castricone said. "They were involved in insurance fraud. What they did was report their car stolen and file false police reports in order to collect insurance money."
The men are believed to have close ties to Ovidiu Muntean, a former Costa Mesa resident who now lives in Oregon. FBI officials said Muntean, one of the 16 people charged, was the head of one of the two major auto theft rings they investigated. It is not known whether the local men who were arrested were acquainted with each other or were working together.
"The people involved in the ring are a fairly recent group of immigrants from Romania from the last 10 years," Castricone said. "They tend to stay together and be a very close-knit group. It was a tough case because they don't welcome people outside their ethnic group so it is difficult to infiltrate these types of groups."
The investigation has resulted in the recovery of $1.2 million in stolen property that includes 120 stolen or altered vehicles. Castricone estimates that at least 250 vehicles were stolen by those involved in the ring.
"That's a conservative estimate," he said. "There are probably substantially more vehicles that were stolen."
Among the property recovered was $15,000 worth of goods bound for Romania.
"One of the men is in Romania, and we have not been able to arrest him," Castricone said. "He was going to send electronic goods over to himself and start a business."
The FBI's investigation is expected to lead to additional arrests in Orange County in the next few months. But those arrests are expected to be made by the California Highway Patrol because they don't involve federal crimes, Castricone said.