|Russian flight attendant, Marina Talashkova, 24, appeared in a University Ave. courtroom on Tuesday to contest extradition to the U.S. on charges relating to a multimillion-dollar Internet fraud involving the sale of vehicles.
TORONTO - American authorities have branded a bogus Internet vehicle scheme as one of the most sophisticated, but not the largest, operations preying on victims in the U.S.
Corneliu Stefan Weikum, 37, and Mishina-Heffron, 23, who are both in federal custody in Nevada, are considered the ringleaders. Their complex scam involved the creation of phony identification, passports, fictitious bank accounts.
They promised the buyers luxury cars, vintage vehicles, RVs and jet skis, took their cash and delivered nothing but heartache.
There were hints that Russian organized crime was involved in court documents obtained by the Toronto Sun.
A beautiful Russian flight attendant, Marina Talashkova was snared in Toronto two months ago, and is facing extradition to the U.S. on March 19.
The now 24-year-old woman, who is an alleged underling, was on a student exchange program, a co-op placement at a Las Vegas clothing store, in Nevada for three months in 2009.
Unlike the others, she used her Nevada card and her own Russian passport to open an account in her own name, said her Toronto defence lawyer Tyler Hodgson.
She withdrew more than $100,000 in funds over a one-week period in July 2009 while in Vegas. She always withdrew under $10,000, the amount that compels a bank to report the transaction to the American money-laundering authorities.
She never opens a fictitious account (which was openly done for some accused) but instead used her own bank account.
“The (American) grand jury indictment shows the defendants had easy access to false ID or were manufacturing and providing fake ID to open bank accounts but there’s no evidence that my client opened a false account and instead used her own name,” said Hodgson.
“There’s no indication she had possession of fake ID. Common sense dictates a fraudster would try to cover her tracks not openly use her own name and account,” said Hodgson.
Talashkova is allegedly a minor player, but the others, who come from Russia, Romania, Germany and Latvia, siphoned $4 million from 110 bank accounts under these false names. They the anonymity of the Internet to bilk victim-purchasers out of $4 million of their money over a three-year period, from Sept. 4, 2007 through Oct. 5, 2010.
Court documents alleged the ringleaders then deposited the funds into their own accounts.
In November 2009, Weikum told unindicted co-conspirator AZ and the confidential informant that he, Weikum “sent members of a Russian organized crime group to Berlin Germany to severely beat the person responsible for not sending new counterfeit passports.”
Within months, Weikum had foreign phony passports for his co-conspirators, the documents alleged.
Some victim-purchasers admitted they had been saving their whole lives to buy this special vehicle.
And the Internet sales pitch on legitimate web-sites sounded too good to be true.
Of course, it was a scam that bilked hundreds of buyers or “victim purchasers” of their hard-earned cash.
The vendors promised the victims that, if they weren’t satisfied within four to seven days of receiving their purchase, they could send it back at the seller’s expense.
No vehicles were delivered so the hollow promise was never fulfilled.
Instead, hundreds of victim purchasers lost at least $4 million between Sept. 4, 2007 through Oct. 5, 2010, court documents alleged.
The fraudsters also instructed the victim-purchasers to send confirmation of their wire transfers, either by replying to the email that sent the fraudulent invoices or to a fax number referenced in the invoice.
The victim purchasers were hunting for luxury vehicles, sporty ones and vintage classics. There was a 2008 Lexus LS460 for $26,000, a 2005 Fleetwood RV for $22,000 or a 2007 Saleen Mustang for $16,500, a 2006 Toyota Land Cruiser for $18,000, a 2004 Chevrolet Silverado ($8,000), a 2007 Mercedes Benz ($10,000), 2008 Aston Martin ($20,000), 2008 BMW 750Li ($10,000) and 2007 Cadillac Escalade ($4,700).
Some were vintage vehicles such as ‘57 Chevrolet Bel Air ($12,000).
In the fall of 2010, an alleged ringleader Julia Mishina-Heffron told a confidential informant that the other alleged ringleader C. Stefan Weikum said some victims said they “had been saving to buy one...all their life.”