Romanian men posed as immigration agents to rob Latino workers in Orange County, authorities say

Two men who allegedly posed as immigration agents and threatened to deport Latino street vendors and day laborers during a series of robberies in Orange County have been charged with hate crimes and other offenses, authorities said Wednesday.

The men allegedly approached workers while wearing fake badges and identified themselves as agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI or local police, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.

One of the suspects later told police that he "targeted Hispanic males because they have cash," and "they are scared due to their immigration status and would not call the police,” prosecutors said during a court hearing Monday.

Laurentiu Baceanu, 20, and Alexandru Vasile, 19 — both Romanian nationals — were charged Monday with 11 felony counts of second-degree robbery and 11 felony hate crime enhancements, the district attorney's office said.

Baceanu and Vasile have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to appear in court on July 2.

Read more: Two men impersonated ICE agents to rob Latino residents, Anaheim police say

Prosecutors say they believe Baceanu and Vasile are undocumented immigrants with ties to Romanian organized crime. They were also charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment and robberies in Contra Costa County on Monday and are suspected of similar offenses in Santa Clara County, as well as in New York and Washington state, Orange County prosecutors said.

They are being held without bail and will be tried in Orange County first before facing charges in the other jurisdictions, according to authorities.

Officers with the Anaheim Police Department arrested Baceanu and Vasile on Thursday after two robberies in the city that day, including one in which the men allegedly robbed three day workers in a Home Depot parking lot after asking to see their identification. Not long after, authorities say, the suspects stole $600 from a man they stopped and threatened to deport as he walked down the street, claiming they were ICE agents.

Officers later found Baceanu and Vasile in Fullerton, driving a blue Audi Q7 SUV, according to the Anaheim Police Department.

Read more: Woman posing as an attorney stole immigrants' cash and dreams, prosecutors say

Prosecutors say the Anaheim robberies were part of a larger pattern in which the suspects demanded money and debit cards from individuals while threatening them in Spanish. There are 11 reported victims in Orange County, according to authorities.

They include a street vendor in Tustin who was allegedly approached by two men at his food cart on June 8. The men said they were police officers and asked for the vendor's identification, according to authorities. The men claimed they were looking for counterfeit bills and demanded the man's money while threatening to deport him. They stole $380 and a Mexican identification card from the vendor.

A week later, on June 15, a father and his son walking on the street in Tustin were approached by two men in a blue Audi. They claimed they were FBI agents and were searching for someone, and demanded the father and son show them identification. They then asked whether the money in their wallets was real.

When the father and son became suspicious and called the police, the men drove away.

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Later that day, a man riding his bicycle home from work in Westminster said he was approached by two men who claimed to be ICE agents, according to prosecutors. They demanded the man's identification and money and threatened he would be deported if he did not listen to them, authorities said.

Two days later, two men approached a man in a restaurant parking lot and identified themselves as immigration agents. They stole the man's money, according to prosecutors, along with his debit card and PIN number.

A day later, a man told the Westminster Police Department that two men had stolen money using the banking app on his phone after he handed it over to them. Prosecutors say the men identified themselves as immigration agents and also stole the man's debit card.

On June 18, two men who claimed to be immigration agents stole $800 from a woman in Anaheim after saying they needed to see her immigration paperwork, according to authorities.

"The humiliation and fear these individuals inflicted on their victims because of their perceived ethnicity is nothing short of disgusting. In Orange County, we will not tolerate hate and any crime motivated by someone’s ethnicity or race will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said in a statement Wednesday.

Authorities are asking anyone who believes they may have been a victim of a similar crime to contact their local police department or Orange County Crime Stoppers at (855) TIP-OCCS (847-6227) or

Read more: Thirteen arrested on suspicion of EBT card theft may be part of Romanian syndicate, LAPD says

This is not the first time this year that Orange County prosecutors have charged Romanian nationals with allegedly committing crimes locally.

Nearly 50 suspects believed to have ties to a Romanian criminal organization were charged in January in connection with a card-skimming operation that targeted people who receive government assistance to pay for food, diapers and other essentials, according to the district attorney's office.

Authorities have said some of those suspects entered the country illegally at border crossings.

During that time, authorities also arrested Florin Duduianu, a wanted criminal from Romania, who was later convicted of fraudulently accessing government assistance funds, according to prosecutors.

In 2023 alone, California lost more than $108 million in CalWORKs benefits from fraud, which involves people stealing money from individual's electronic benefits transfer accounts, or EBT cards, the district attorney's office said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.