Romanian organized crime group targeting places of worship across Maryland, Virginia: police

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Romanian mobsters are traveling the country and targeting religious institutions in brazen daylight robberies, police suspect. In April and May, they hit two Buddhist temples, two mosques and one Hindu temple in the Washington, D.C., area, according to authorities.

Montgomery (Maryland) County Police suspect that the Romanian Organized Crime Group, who call themselves the ROMAs, targeted seven similar places in 2023, with police saying they made arrests in about half of the incidents, Fox 5 DC reported. 

Since arresting group members Alex Dumitru, 23, and Natalian Dumitru, 18, in connection with two of the burglaries last month, Montgomery County Police Lieutenant Andrew Suh told Fox News Digital that no more houses of worship or residences connected to temples or churches had been targeted in the area. 

But Suh said that the international group, which has a presence nationwide, has operated in the D.C. area for about a decade and for his entire career with the department — and that quelling its activity is like “cutting the heads of a hydra.”

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Evidence found in the brothers’ homes connected them to two of the crimes, the department wrote in a press release. Both were arrested on first-degree burglary charges and bailed out with $10,000 personal bonds.

Surveillance video from the Wat Thai Buddhist Temple in Silver Spring last month shows members of the crew brazenly walking inside while dozens are inside for a funeral luncheon. The thieves didn’t take off their shoes at the door in the surveillance footage, making it somewhat apparent that they weren’t members. 

The suspects then snuck into resident monk Ruangrit Thaithae’s residence and allegedly snatched $20,000 in donations from a safe in the span of 20 minutes, according to local reports. The monk was reportedly planning to deposit the money from temple members the next day.

While one suspect distracted a temple member, the others are accused of making off with the safe and other valuable items.

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Ruangrit Thaithae, known as Monk Jack

“I would like to tell them that even if the law enforcement can’t catch them, the karma will,” Thaithae, known as Monk Jack, told the outlet. “In Buddhism, we believe in karma. Karma will catch them soon.”

“I think they’re still young, so if they stop doing these things and do the good things for their life, for their family and for people, they will be good,” Thaithae said. “They still have time. They can be a good person. For the past, that’s OK, but in the future, if they stop and do good things, because they are making people suffer.”

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Natalian Dumitru, 18, and his brother Alex Dumitru, 23

Although the group targeted religious hubs, Suh said that his department didn’t consider these burglaries hate crimes. Instead, they were crimes of opportunity.

“This organization is generally just focused on obtaining monetary rewards,” Suh said. “They don’t have a political motivation or a stance — they’re just focused on dollars.”

Although the group has gone quiet since the recent arrests of its members, Suh said that it had many branches, and that in all likelihood, some fraud operations were still taking place.

Another temple in Accokeek, Maryland, sent Fox 5 surveillance stills of a group of men breaking in around mid-March. Although the men damaged the door, the monks caught on to what was happening and scared them off.

Three suspects are pictured on security footage provided by one of the victimized Montgomery County religious institutions to Fox 5 DC.

“Houses of worship are upset because often they’re using their funds to help the community, right? They’re running food drives and food pantries, child support programs, supporting the elderly,” Montgomery County faith leader Kate Chance told Fox 5. “And often folks see them as easy targets because they’re just kind-hearted individuals who often don’t report these sorts of incidents.”

Chance said religious hubs should apply for an area grant that would give them up to $20,000 for security upgrades. 

Chris Swecker, who served 24 years as an FBI special agent and was the former assistant director of the FBI, said that he’d never seen organized criminals target houses of worship in his career. However, he was all too familiar with the Romanian Organized Crime Group, calling them “hit-and-run artists.”

Wat Thai Washington, D.C., a Buddhist temple in Silver Spring

“As you can see, they’re pretty brazen — they know where to go to find value and they’re preying on people who are peaceful and docile,” Swecker told Fox News Digital. “They don’t expect people to do bad things and leave their gold objects in plain view that are easy to access. The congregation would never think about taking those things, but the ROMA know they can do it.”

“They’re not big, violent extortionists getting violent retribution,” Swecker explained. “They’re smart enough to know property crime won’t get them big time and won’t garner as much federal attention.”

The Romanian Mafia has footholds throughout the U.S. Earlier this year, California prosecutors warned that members were panhandling outside big-box stores, then stealing credit card information using skimmers at self-checkouts inside the stores.

Swecker noted that taking down organized crime was once a “staple” of the FBI, and that a transient group “moving from jurisdiction to jurisdiction” would be a “perfect thing for the FBI to pursue.”

But he said it seemed like the bureau had “sort of abdicated. I never hear about RICO arrests, big takedowns.” 

“You just see a disjointed local effort,” Swecker added. “They do their best to coordinate between jurisdictions, but without bringing in the feds, it’s nearly impossible.”

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