They had it down to a science. When the group walked into a Hindu temple in Forsyth County on May 16, they told the chief priest they were tourists curious about his religion. While the priest gave two men a tour of the grounds, a woman stole gold jewelry from the temple’s statues. Then they left to find another temple to rob.
It was a familiar scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, who on Monday announced three Romanian nationals had been arraigned on federal charges of conspiracy to transport, in interstate commerce, stolen goods with a value of at least $5,000 and transporting, in interstate commerce, gold jewelry with a value of at least $5,000, which the defendants stole from the Hindu Temple of Atlanta, in Riverdale, Georgia.
Valer Iazmin Varga, 28, Robert-Auras Adam, 31, and Ana-Lordana Adam, 30, were arraigned on Sept. 11 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Russell G. Vineyard. Co-defendant Stela Patricia Varga was arrested on Sept. 11 in Slidell, Louisiana on a federal arrest warrant related to the same charges.
The group allegedly traveled to Hindu and Buddhist places of worship in at least six states for the purpose of stealing gold jewelry and cash. When three of the defendants were arrested in early June, they had more than $50,000 in U.S. currency.
“They exploited their victims’ custom of receiving visitors with open arms in their temples and religious centers, and also allegedly involved their minor children in their theft scheme,” said U.S. Attorney Byung “BJay” Pak.
In May, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office was searching for four suspects who allegedly stole $15,000 in jewelry from Sri Maha Lakshmi Temple on Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth.
While two male suspects distracted priests, a female suspect allegedly stole 10 gold chains off the temple’s statutes, according to authorities. When one priest attempted to go inside the building, one of the male suspects physically blocked him from entering.
Although the defendants allegedly attempted to interfere with the temples’ security cameras, the defendants were captured on camera, in some cases in the act of stealing jewelry.
This case is being investigated by the FBI, Atlanta Division, Transnational Organized Crime Squad with assistance by the FBI’s New Orleans Gang Task Force, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s OFfice, the Lilburn Police Department, the Clayton County Police Department, the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio, the Bloomingdale Police Department in Illinois, the Lemont Police Department in Illinois, the Bridgeton Police Department in Missouri and the Franklin Police Department in New Jersey.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica C. Morris is prosecuting the case.