Friday, February 23, 2018
Public safety

Transcontinental crime ring broken up, Pinellas authorities say

LARGO — Tihomir Botchev told his neighbors he was a contractor.

But authorities say the 32-year-old, originally from Bulgaria, actually made his money by running a transcontinental crime ring that defrauded several financial institutions out of at least $3.1 million over the past four years.

The operation involved using fake documents to get credit cards and luxury vehicles, which were then resold overseas for sometimes double the value, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Friday morning.

Authorities raided Botchev's Largo home off West Bay Drive on Thursday and arrested him and four other men on racketeering and conspiracy charges. A judge set bail for each of them at $500,000.

The investigation, which began in 2008, is a joint operation of the sheriff's economic crimes unit, the U.S. Secret Service and the Florida attorney general's statewide prosecution office. It is ongoing.

"This is one of the largest investigations we've had in the Tampa Bay area," said John Joyce, special agent in charge of the Secret Service's Tampa office. "Certainly the most organized. … The scheme itself is the most involved we've come across."

Authorities are still looking for five other men they consider to be main players in the crime ring, although Gualtieri said hundreds of others may have participated in the scheme over the years.

At a news conference Friday morning, Gualtieri and Joyce used giant diagrams to explain how the crime ring worked. They said the group used three main schemes:

• Recruits would be given fake documents to get credit cards, which they would then max out on purchases from various shell companies in Florida and Illinois linked to Botchev. Botchev would then withdraw cash from the shell companies' accounts. Banks would never be paid. Officials estimated the ring got about $1 million this way.

• Suspects used fake documents to get car loans for new BMWs, Audis, Infinitis and other luxury vehicles bought in Florida, and then they registered them in Illinois, which had looser rules when it came to proving satisfactions of liens. The crime ring would then ship the cars overseas to places such as Lithuania, resell them and never repay the bank loans.

• Using cash from the credit card scheme, suspects also would use fake documents to buy used cars from local dealers and then get fake loans for those same cars from banks. Meanwhile, the ring would ship the used cars overseas, resell them and never repay the banks. Officials estimate the ring got about $2.1 million from both of the vehicle schemes.

The group duped more than a dozen financial institutions, including Chase, Fifth Third Bank, Bank of America, BB&T and Grow Financial, among others, officials said.

In addition to Botchev, those arrested Thursday included Ivan Petrov, 31, Georgi Angelov, 28, and Martin Jordanov, 27, all of St. Petersburg, and Lubomir Sandov, 47, of Clearwater.

Authorities are still looking for these men: Ivan Staykov, Kiril G. Dinev and Ivaylo V. Georgiev (a.k.a. Rumen Naydenov), all of Chicago; and Nikolay Poibrenski and Atanas Todorov Zagorov, who are believed to be local.

Detectives said someone from inside the organization tipped off authorities to what was going on. But it took authorities years to put the case together.

Officials in Florida and Illinois have already made changes as a result of this investigation, Gualtieri said.

He said Illinois has tightened its policy regarding showing proof of loan satisfaction, and several of the financial institutions involved are requiring physical inspections of cars before they issue a loan.

All of the people involved in the scheme are from Bulgaria or other eastern European countries, officials said. Some, including Botchev, entered the United States legally, then became citizens.

Botchev himself moved to this country a dozen years ago, sheriff's spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda said. He lived in both Chicago and Florida. Authorities said they believe he met the others involved in the scheme through social situations.

No one answered the door Friday at Botchev's one-story, coffee-colored home on Keating Drive. Neighbors said he has a wife and children. A St. Patrick's Day-themed welcome sign was stuck in the lawn.

Reach Kameel Stanley at tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643.

   
Comments
Sheriff: Small plane goes down in Zephyrhills

Sheriff: Small plane goes down in Zephyrhills

ZEPHYHRHILLS — A small aircraft crashed along Old Lakeland Highway on Friday afternoon, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies believe the plane was a two-seater.No other information was available about the incident, including the id...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa judge sentences man to 330 years after repeat trips to the Philippines to have sex with children and make child porn

Tampa judge sentences man to 330 years after repeat trips to the Philippines to have sex with children and make child porn

TAMPA — A Venice man convicted of producing child pornography and regularly traveling to the Philippines to have sex with children was sentenced Friday to spend 330 years in federal prison. In October, a federal jury found David Paul Lynch, 56, guilt...
Updated: 2 hours ago

School District demands students leave backpacks at home due to threats

Middle school and high school students across Manatee County have been asked to leave their backpacks at home Friday in response to "an excessive number of threats."The Manatee County School District announced its decision through telephone calls and...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Video shows Brandon car chase ending as driver’s dog barks at deputies

Video shows Brandon car chase ending as driver’s dog barks at deputies

BRANDON — After leading deputies on a wild car chase over roads, sidewalks and yards, a driver faces charges including attempting to elude law enforcement.No legal action was taken against a passenger, though — a dog riding with him who popped from t...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Police: Person found inside van in Walmart parking lot an apparent suicide victim

Police: Person found inside van in Walmart parking lot an apparent suicide victim

TARPON SPRINGS — Police have determined that a person found in a van at a Walmart parking lot on Thursday had died of an apparent suicide.Police investigated the death after the body was found Thursday afternoon in a van at a Walmart parking lot.The ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Deputy ‘never went in’ during Parkland school shooting. There were other failures, too

Deputy ‘never went in’ during Parkland school shooting. There were other failures, too

Eight days after mass shooter Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Broward’s top cop on Thursday revealed a stunning series of failures by the sheriff’s department.A school campus cop heard the gunfire, rushed ...
Published: 02/22/18
Florida man yells ‘murderers!’ as he’s executed for slaying

Florida man yells ‘murderers!’ as he’s executed for slaying

Associated PressSTARKE — An inmate convicted of raping and killing a college student decades ago screamed and yelled "murderers!" three times, thrashing on a gurney as he was being put to death Thursday. The governor’s office said Eric Scott Branch, ...
Published: 02/22/18
Polk deputies seek Pinellas man accused of pushing woman from speeding car

Polk deputies seek Pinellas man accused of pushing woman from speeding car

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said an arrest warrant was issued for a Pinellas County man accused of beating and pushing a woman from a speeding car.The incident took place on Feb. 17, the Sheriff’s Office said. Remond Brown II, 26, was traveling ...
Published: 02/22/18
Dunedin man seriously injured in motorcycle crash

Dunedin man seriously injured in motorcycle crash

OLDSMAR — A 37-year-old Dunedin man was seriously injured in a high-speed motorcycle crash early Thursday morning, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said Justin Kaune was riding southbound on Bayside Boulevard around 2:30 a.m...
Published: 02/22/18
Police seek machete-wielding suspect in Plant City robbery

Police seek machete-wielding suspect in Plant City robbery

PLANT CITY — Police are searching for a man armed with a machete accused of robbing a convenience store on Tuesday.The man arrived at the Circle K convenience store station at 1514 Alexander St. S at about 2:50 a.m. and demanded money from store empl...
Published: 02/22/18