The reputed leader of a Bulgarian organized crime ring in Las Vegas has pleaded guilty to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from bank ATMs around the valley.
Dimitar Dimitrov pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to traffic in and produce counterfeit access devices in a deal hammered out by defense attorney John Momot and Eric Johnson, chief of the Nevada U.S. Attorney's Organized Crime Strike Force. The felony charge draws a maximum five-year prison term and $250,000 fine.
In exchange for Dimitrov's plea, federal prosecutors will dismiss a felony gun possession case against him, along with a third case involving the theft of $1.6 million in luxury cars and boats through an elaborate credit scheme.
But prosecutors retain the right to prosecute the 59-year-old for any acts of violence they uncover. His sentencing was set for Oct. 27.
FBI wiretaps revealed Dimitrov had a 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.
In keeping Dimitrov behind bars last year as the criminal case unfolded, U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson described him as a "lifelong criminal who has little regard for others."
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 high-tech, sophisticated scams.
Dimitrov had one crew stealing the cash from the ATMs and another buying cars and boats in the credit scam, authorities said.
The ATM scheme involved stealing bank account and personal identification numbers 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, according to the plea agreement.
Often the numbers were stolen by installing a small hidden camera above the keypad of an ATM. The scheme was so sophisticated that customers had no idea their information was stolen until it was too late, the plea agreement said.
Dimitrov's crew acquired the cars and boats from dealerships by fraudulently obtaining loans they never intended to pay. They either sold or rented the cars to other people and smuggled some vehicles to Eastern Europe, court records show.
In many cases, straw buyers claiming to be employed by fictitious companies approached the dealerships on behalf of the defendants.
Nine of Dimitrov's crew members were charged with him last year. Four remain at large in Bulgaria, but four of the five arrested here have pleaded guilty in both theft cases, federal court records show. His wife, Viarka Dimitrova, who was charged with helping him unlawfully obtain a 9 mm pistol, will have a chance to enter into a federal diversion agreement that could result in her charges being dismissed.
Because most of Dimitrov's arrested co-defendants have pleaded guilty with him, prosecutors will recommend some prison time be cut from their sentences.
Dimitrov agreed to make full restitution in the ATM thefts and, with some of his co-defendants, forfeit $1 million worth of cars and boats authorities seized in the credit scheme, the plea agreement said.
Several luxury cars, including a Mercedes Benz S550, Audi A4 and Volvo S60, were among the cars stolen in the scheme.
Eastern European crime rings cost Southern Nevada tens of millions of dollars each year in identity theft and credit scams, authorities have said.
FBI agents and Las Vegas police set up a special task force to investigate the crimes committed by those groups, which maintain international connections.
Dimitrov was overheard on FBI wiretaps bragging that he had "crews" in the south of France, Spain and Portugal .
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135.