Sunday, April 22, 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
4 dead in Nashville Waffle House shooting; suspect sought

4 dead in Nashville Waffle House shooting; suspect sought

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —†A gunman wearing nothing but a green jacket and brandishing an assault rifle stormed a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville and shot four people to death before dawn Sunday, according to police, who credited a customer with s...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Deputies: Florida man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

Deputies: Florida man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

ST. PETERSBURG ó A man punched a 13-year-old girl inside a RaceTrac convenience store on Saturday, knocking her unconscious as her parent pumped gas outside, Pinellas deputies reported.Kolbe Wayne Smith, 27 and of St. Petersburg, now faces charges of...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Teen killed in crash remembered as

Teen killed in crash remembered as "always smiling and laughing"

WEEKI WACHEE ó Seth Leathers was on his way to play basketball at his church when he was killed Wednesday in a car crash on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill, according to family friend Laurie Pike.Leathers, 16, was the passenger in a car driven by his friend G...
Updated: 9 hours ago
New Port Richey Woman dies in single-car crash on SR 580

New Port Richey Woman dies in single-car crash on SR 580

A 49-year-old woman died early Saturday in a single-car crash on State Road 580.Kristin Carlin, of New Port Richey, was driving in the eastbound lanes of SR 580 when she failed to round a curve and veered off the road near Charles Avenue, a Clearwate...
Published: 04/21/18
Man with multiple gun arrests now accused of fatally shooting Durant High football player

Man with multiple gun arrests now accused of fatally shooting Durant High football player

The first time deputies arrested Samuel Morrissey Jr., he faced charges of possession of marijuana and carrying a concealed firearm. He plead no contest in September, and the judge gave him a break by withholding adjudication. Ten days later, the 20-...
Published: 04/21/18
Man who attacked woman and stole her shorts arrested, deputies say

Man who attacked woman and stole her shorts arrested, deputies say

Deputies arrested a man they said tackled a woman in February and removed her shorts before fleeing.Robert Mark Hembree Jr., 31, was arrested late Friday. He faces charges of sexual battery and petit theft.PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Detectives seek man who a...
Published: 04/21/18
Dade City man killed in early morning hit-and-run, police say

Dade City man killed in early morning hit-and-run, police say

A Pasco County man was struck and killed in an apparent hit-and-run early Saturday, police said.Thomas Michael Burdeshaw, 53, who lived on Sundance Drive in Dade City, was hit about 1:45 a.m. on the 36000 block of Blanton Road, police said.Witnesses ...
Published: 04/21/18
Police searching for person who shot a man to death in Largo

Police searching for person who shot a man to death in Largo

CLEARWATER ó Police are looking for a person who shot and killed a man late Friday at the Melrose on the Bay apartments on Bolesta Road. Ricardo Guzman, 32, called 911 just before midnight and told the operator he had been shot, said Lt. Randall Chan...
Published: 04/21/18
Motorcyclist dies after crash on Memorial Highway

Motorcyclist dies after crash on Memorial Highway

TAMPA ó A motorcyclist driving north on Memorial Highway died after he crashed into a guard rail late Friday, police said."The man failed to negotiate a curve in the road and struck a guard rail," said Lt. Brett Owen. "No other vehicle was involved i...
Published: 04/21/18
Cops used dead manís finger in attempt to access his phone. Itís legal, but is it okay?

Cops used dead manís finger in attempt to access his phone. Itís legal, but is it okay?

LARGO ó Most people agree what the Largo detectives did at the funeral home was legal.What they diverge on is whether it was appropriate."I just felt so disrespected and violated," said Victoria Armstrong, whose fiance, Linus F. Phillip, was shot and...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18