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Pair plead guilty in Internet car sales scam based overseas

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:27 PM EDT, Fri September 21, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Scheme operated out of Romania, federal prosecutors say
  • It offered nonexistent autos for sale on websites
  • Man, woman plead guilty

(CNN) -- A man and woman pleaded guilty to participating in a Romania-based Internet car sales scam that cost U.S. victims more than $4 million, federal prosecutors said Friday.

The scheme allegedly advertised nonexistent vehicles for sale on websites that included eBay Motors, AutoTrader, Yahoo Auto, edmunds.com and Cragslist.

Corneliu Weikum, 38, a Romanian national who lives in Germany, and Yulia Mishina-Heffron, 24, of Russia, entered the pleas Thursday in Las Vegas, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, which helped prosecute the case.

The defendants forfeited more than $1.2 million in cash and agreed to pay restitution to the victims, prosecutors said. If a federal judge accepts the plea agreements, they will be sentenced December 21.

"After negotiating with members of the conspiracy in Romania, victims of the scam were instructed to deposit the money for the cars into bank accounts established at the direction of Weikum and Mishina-Heffron," according to the statement. "Associates withdrew the money and gave it to Weikum and Mishina-Heffron, who would then smuggle the money out of the United States in the form of cash and wire transfers."

The pair pleaded guilty to two counts, one involving smuggling bulk cash out of the United States, the other involving a plot to commit bank and wire fraud. The agreements call for Weikum to receive a 97-month prison sentence, and Mishina-Heffron 70 months. The maximum statutory sentence is 35 years' imprisonment.

According to prosecutors, more than $1 million was seized in October 2009 from Weikum's luggage at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. In March 2010, officers found $20,000 stuffed into stereo speakers Mishina-Heffron attempted to ship to Germany, the statement said.

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