Romanian national gets prison sentence for ATM skimming

·3 min read

Nov. 16—Stealing more than $106,000 from automated teller machines (ATMs) in western Pennsylvania via skimming equipment has earned a Romanian national a three-and-one-half year federal prison sentence.

Janos Vaczi received the sentence Monday in U.S. District Court in Erie from Judge Susan Paradise Baxter following a more-than-two-hour hearing held via Zoom.

Vaczi, 51, pleaded guilty in April to one count of access device fraud and three counts of aggravated identity theft for installing skimming equipment on numerous ATMs in Meadville, Erie and other parts of northwestern Pennsylvania.

A skimmer is a card reader that can be disguised to look like part of an ATM. The skimmer attachment collects bank card numbers and PIN codes, which are then used to make counterfeit cards. Skimming is the type of fraud that occurs when an ATM is compromised by a skimmer.

Vaczi is believed to have entered the U.S. illegally in March 2018, according to federal authorities. A Romanian national, he also went by the aliases Daniel Tudor and Gyula Lakatos.

The FBI charged Vaczi with installing a skimming device at an ATM at a Marquette Savings Bank in Vernon Township outside of Meadville in May 2019. The data collected then was used to create fake debit cards and steal thousands of dollars from bank accounts around Meadville and Erie, according to the criminal complaint.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Vaczi and unnamed co-conspirators installed skimming equipment between March 2018 and June 22, 2019, on numerous ATMs throughout the region to get bank account and personal identity information. The information was placed on other cards, then used at various ATMs to unlawfully obtain at least $50,000 from 264 bank accounts in the Meadville and Erie areas.

During the investigation, the FBI searched a storage locker that Vaczi had rented in the Pittsburgh area.

Inside the storage locker the FBI discovered hundreds of cards that contained stolen bank account information which enabled Vaczi and his co-conspirators to use the cards at various ATMs to steal funds. Vaczi's storage locker also contained $10,000, ATM skimming equipment, and numerous fake passports and international driver's licenses bearing his picture but with different names.

Shortly before the FBI apprehended Vaczi, he attempted to bury hundreds of cards containing stolen identity information near a grocery store in the Pittsburgh area, officials said. Agents noticed that the ground had been disturbed in the area where Vaczi had been standing and discovered the cards shortly thereafter.

All told, Vaczi defrauded 350 banking customers, according Christian Trabold, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case.

Vaczi was a "professional international criminal," Trabold told the court at Monday's sentencing. "He traveled into the United States for the sole purpose of ripping off Americans."

Trabold had argued for a prison sentence of up to nine years for Vaczi.

Andrew Lipson, Vaczi's federal public defender, had sought a time-served sentence as Vaczi had been held in the Erie County jail since his arrest in June 2019.

Prior to sentencing, Vaczi, speaking through an interpreter, apologized to the court.

"I have no words to say how much I regret what I did," he said.

However, Baxter was unmoved, saying she was "not confident" Vaczi had been truthful with investigators, including with his identity.

"White-collar crime is not something that is taken lightly by the law or this court," she said.

The judge ordered Vaczi to serve 18 months on the access device fraud count followed by two years in jail for each of the three aggravated identity theft charges. However, Baxter ordered the jail time for the three aggravated identity theft counts to be served at the same time.

Vaczi also must serve a total of three years supervised release, or probation, following his release from prison.

Baxter also ordered Vaczi to pay $106,341.07 in restitution to two banks — $94,031.32 to Marquette Savings and $12,309.75 to Citizens.

Keith Gushard can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at