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MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Romanian man accused of running a massive credit card skimming operation in the Mexican resort of Cancún was arrested Thursday, ending a bizarre story of violence, theft and politics.
Mexican prosecutors said Florian Tudor, often know by his nickname “The Shark,” was arrested on an extradition request from Romania for attempted murder, organized crime and extortion.
When federal agents went to take Tudor into custody, another federal agent tried to prevent the arrest and Tudor's lawyer tried to punch the officers, the prosecutors said. Both the lawyer and the rogue agent were subdued and taken into custody along with the Romanian.
Tudor has maintained his innocence, but officials say hundreds, and perhaps thousands of tourists were allegedly scammed at ATM machines run by his group in Cancún.
Tudor claimed he was a legitimate businessman facing political persecution and was even granted a meeting on March 3 with Mexico's top police official, Public Safety Secretary Rosa Icela Rodríguez.
Rodríguez said she had been ordered by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to meet with Tudor and hear him out. “All we did was grant him a meeting to hear what he wanted to say ... we treated him like any other citizen," Rodríguez said later.
But the meeting surprised many because it came one month after Mexico's anti-money laundering agency froze 79 bank accounts connected to the gang because they “formed part of a criminal enterprise to clone credit cards in the tourist zone of Cancún.”
The Financial Intelligence Unit said it acted as part of a joint investigation with the FBI; the unit confirmed the ring was run by Romanians and that as much as $25 million in suspicious transfers had been detected.
The unit said the gang placed ATMs with ‘skimmers’ to read credit card data inside Cancún hotels, and said the scam had expanded to other resorts like Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos.
Tudor became known for speaking from inside a baronial residence in Cancún and issuing lengthy press releases claiming he was a victim of human rights violations and political persecution.
In one 12-page document, Tudor claimed that the former police chief of Quintana Roo — the state where Cancún is located — and an adviser to the state governor “are behind this campaign to invent the false idea of a 'Romanian mafia,' and have paid millions to news media to slander me."
He claimed it was all part of a plot to hurt López Obrador's Morena party in this year's mid-term elections.
Tudor also claimed federal prosecutors had stolen from him “safes, computers, cash, credit cards, jewels, fine watches, works of art, TVs, pure bred dogs and horses, and construction equipment.”
In 2018, another Romanian, a member of the gang who had a falling out with Tudor, was found dead in a vehicle near Tudor's house. There were conflicting versions about the circumstances of the killing; local media quoted another Tudor associate as claiming he was attacked and killed the man in self-defense.