CLEARWATER — A server at the Tuscano Grille restaurant on McMullen-Booth Road is accused of using credit card numbers from customers to buy merchandise from discount and grocery stores.
Mircea C. Ciornei, 31, of 3804 Olde Lanark Drive in Land O'Lakes was arrested Wednesday on four counts of identity theft, three counts of forgery of a credit card, scheme to defraud and criminal use of personal identification.
According to Clearwater police, Ciornei was taking credit card numbers from restaurant patrons and re-encoding them onto gift cards at stores including Target, Publix, Sweetbay Supermarket and Burlington Coat Factory.
The fraudulent gift cards were used to make purchases throughout the Tampa Bay area. Using one credit card number alone, Ciornei bought more than $2,200 worth of goods, according to an arrest report.
The investigation is ongoing. Detectives have not released the total amount of money he spent using the cards, said Clearwater police spokeswoman Beth Watts.
Watts declined to discuss how detectives with the department's economic crimes unit learned of the thefts.
When police stopped Ciornei as he left work around 11:30 p.m., he gave officers a fake ID, she said.
He also was charged with driving on a suspended or revoked license, providing false identification to law enforcement and unlawful use of a license.
On Thursday afternoon, he was being held in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $10,650 bail.
Court records show Ciornei pleaded no contest to driving under the influence last year and was sentenced to one year's probation.
Nicole Andersen, one of the owners of the high-end steakhouse, said Ciornei had worked at the restaurant for over a year.
"The guy came to work on time and went above and beyond the call of duty," she said.
Andersen said there were no clues that anything was amiss with Ciornei's handling of credit cards.
"Unfortunately for us, we didn't know of the situation and we apologize to any of our customers who were inconvenienced by the situation."
Ciornei no longer works for the company, she said.
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157.