LAS VEGAS — Federal authorities in Nevada say they broke up a criminal ring with Bulgarian ties accused of defrauding Las Vegas and Phoenix auto dealers and skimming money from bank ATMs.
A prosecutor identified Dimitar Dimitrov, 58, a U.S. citizen who lives in Las Vegas, as the ringleader of a group that used straw buyers to acquire and ship vehicles to Eastern Europe, and also stole bank account and PIN numbers from customers.
He was named along with 10 other people in three separate indictments stemming from a two-year FBI investigation that involved the use of court-approved wiretaps.
Five defendants have yet to appear in federal court in Las Vegas, Natalie Collins, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden, said Tuesday.
Federal prosecutor Kathleen Bliss told U.S. District Court Magistrate Robert Johnston on Monday that Dimitrov was a convicted felon in the U.S. and Bulgaria, and that the FBI had information that Dimitrov was associated with organized crime figures in Bulgaria.
Dimitrov's lawyer, Todd Leventhal, told the judge that information Bliss presented from wiretaps could have been mistranslated from Bulgarian to English.
"There's no hard evidence that he's a violent person," Leventhal said.
Dimitrov pleaded not guilty, and Johnston ordered him freed on $100,000 bail with electronic monitoring pending trial.
Dimitrov was charged in all three indictments, including one that accuses him and his wife, Viarka Dimitrova, of unlawfully obtaining a 9mm handgun.
Viarka Dimitrova pleaded not guilty Monday and was freed on bond pending trial.
Bliss said Dimitar Dimitrov was recorded telling associates he would tie a witness to a tree, pour gasoline over him and "turn him into barbecue."
A second indictment charges Dimitrov and five other men with conspiracy, wire fraud and transporting stolen property.
Authorities allege the group acquired some $1.6 million worth of vehicles in early 2008 by obtaining multiple car loans at different dealers. At least 12 car dealers in Nevada and Arizona were victimized, Bliss said. Some buyers were Bulgarian nationals, according to one indictment.
The third indictment accuses Dimitrov and four other men of trafficking in counterfeit access devices and aggravated identity theft in a scheme that Bliss said netted at least $700,000 from bank ATMs in and around Las Vegas.