Federal prosecutors described Dimitar Dimitrov in court papers as the greedy, calculating boss of a Bulgarian organized crime ring that oversaw bank ATM skimming crews from coast to coast, including Las Vegas.
His defense lawyers argued that Dimitrov was much lower down the chain of command in the syndicate's lucrative cash stealing operations. Dimitrov, they wrote, suffered from too many personal problems, including alcoholism and bipolar disorder, to be the group's leader.
On Tuesday, Senior U.S. District Judge Philip Pro took the government's view, sentencing Dimitrov to 41 months in prison for leading a crew that used high-tech methods to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from bank ATMs in the valley.
Dimitrov will get credit for time served behind bars since his May 2010 arrest.
Pro also ordered Dimitrov, 59, to serve three years of supervised release after he gets out of prison, pay $96,461 in restitution and stay away from other members of the crime ring, some of whom have yet to be arrested.
Before Pro handed down the sentence, Dimitrov, dressed in chains and jail garb, insisted he was not the group's leader.
"I never organized nobody," he said in a strong Bulgarian accent. "I just drank too much and talked too much."
But Pro said the record was clear that Dimitrov was "the guy" who answered to the crime ring's overseer in Bulgaria.
The government's position was backed by court-approved FBI wiretaps that intercepted calls between Dimitrov and the overseer, among others. Those wiretaps showed that Dimitrov ran ATM skimming crews not only in Las Vegas but also in New York, Miami, San Francisco and Seattle.
"Dimitrov's role in the organization was that of a leader and organizer in that Dimitrov himself didn't generally participate in the actual use of skimming equipment or the running of ATM cards," Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Johnson wrote. "Instead, Dimitrov had others go out and do the dirty work, insulating him from detection and liability."
Dimitrov's lawyer, John Momot, contended in court papers that no such crime syndicate operated in Las Vegas.
"The common affiliation the co-defendants share is their motherland, Bulgaria," Momot wrote.
Dimitrov was "relegated to being a chauffeur, a relatively menial job for someone who is supposed to be the leader/organizer," Momot added.
But Johnson argued that Dimitrov's primary responsibility was to make sure his crews paid him his share so that he could send money to his overseer, Nencho "Neno" Mihalev, in Bulgaria.
Dimitrov was overheard on the FBI wiretaps discussing the crimes he had committed in Bulgaria, Johnson wrote.
"Dimitrov stated that he had racketeered prostitutes, embezzled from truck drivers from foreign countries and bribed policemen, customs officers and Bulgarian state security agents."
Dimitrov pleaded guilty in June to one count of conspiracy to traffic in and produce counterfeit access devices.
In exchange for his plea, federal prosecutors agreed to dismiss a felony gun possession case against him, with a third case involving the theft of $1.6 million in luxury cars and boats through an elaborate credit scheme.
The FBI wiretaps revealed Dimitrov's penchant for threatening violence during his international criminal dealings.
He vowed to get crime figures in Bulgaria to "cut off the ears" of a former associate and "use them as cigarette holders," according to the wiretaps. FBI agents also overheard Dimitrov bragging that he knew how to keep a witness in line by tying him to a tree with wire, pouring gasoline over him and standing next to him with cigarettes and a lighter.
Momot contended in his court papers that Dimitrov's bipolar disorder, combined with his "uninhibited drinking," led him to make "gross misrepresentations" about his actions over the wiretaps.
His "dramatic and often violent expressions are only loosely connected with reality," Momot said.
In court, Momot likened Dimitrov's crime group to "the gang that couldn't shoot straight."
But to law enforcement authorities, Dimitrov represents the new kind of organized crime boss in Las Vegas: someone who is capable of violence but also adept at pulling off sophisticated scams.
The ATM scheme involved stealing bank account and personal identification numbers, often through a hidden camera, when customers did business at ATMs in the spring of 2009. Dimitrov's crew used that information to make counterfeit debit cards and withdraw money from ATMs.
Dimitrov participated in another scam in which crew members acquired cars and boats from dealerships by fraudulently obtaining loans they never intended to pay. They sold or rented the cars to other people and smuggled some vehicles to Eastern Europe.
Nine other defendants were charged with Dimitrov. Four remain at large in Bulgaria, but four of the five arrested have pleaded guilty in both theft cases.
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135.