San Diego–One of the jewelry store employees charged in a scheme designed to defraud active duty military service personnel has pleaded guilty in the case.
According to NBC 7 San Diego, Carlos Torres, a Romano’s Jewelers store manager, copped to charges of identity theft in a California court this week.
Torres, along with Romano’s Jewelers owner Ramil (Randy) Abalkhad and store employee Nellie Cha Noland, were first charged in the case in March 2015 in California Superior Court following a criminal investigation by the U.S. Marine Corps.
According to the original complaint, Abalkhad told Noland to obtain the social security numbers of active duty military personnel who were customers of Romano’s Jewelers and had credit accounts with the store. Then, Abalkhad told Noland to ask Kymani Tate, who was a Marine at that time, to use the social security numbers to reset the passwords of his fellow Marines’ Defense Finance Account Service (DFAS) MyPay accounts. MyPay functions like a bank account and can be directly linked to other financial accounts so money can be withdrawn to pay bills.
After the passwords were changed, the MyPay accounts were accessed so unauthorized payments could be made to Romano’s Jewelers, court papers state.
Noland was offered $10 for every password that was reset. Tate was offered cash as well and, according to court papers, he was also given jewelry and had his Romano’s Jewelers credit account cleared.
Torres knew about and was involved in the scheme as well, according to the complaint.
NBC 7 San Diego has been reporting on this story from the beginning, as the network used the federal Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents from the 2012 Marine Corps investigation of Tate. He was eventually convicted at a special court martial, fined, spent time in confinement and received a bad conduct discharge.
According to the network, Abalkhad’s trial is set for Nov. 1. Torres and Noland, who pleaded guilty in July 2015, won’t be sentenced until after that time.
R.J. Financial Inc., d/b/a Romano’s Jewelers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2010.
In July 2015, a judge converted the case to a Chapter 7, forcing the company to liquidate and, ultimately, recover as much money as possible for the creditors. Following the conversion, the Romano’s Jewelers stores in Culver City, Northridge and Downey, Calif. closed. (More Romano’s stores closed prior to the conversion.)
At that time, the Chapter 7 trustee appointed to the case, attorney David Seror, told National Jeweler that there were other Romano’s Jewelers stores operating that were not under the R.J. Financial umbrella, including Diamond Trading Lakewood, d/b/a Romano’s Jewelers in the Lakewood Center Mall in Lakewood, Calif., and Diamond Trading Glendale, d/b/a Romano’s Jewelers in the Glendale Galleria Mall. He said that Abalkhad was involved in the management of these stores as well.
The Romano’s Jewelers website also lists stores in Northridge and Santa Ana.
Abalkhad’s attorney, A. David Youssefyeh, did not respond to request for comment Wednesday when asked about how the Torres plea might impact his client’s case or Abalkhad’s current involvement with Romano’s Jewelers.