Three people walking quickly across the parking lot into the Hempfield Walmart store earlier this month caught the eye of Katrina Jaquay, who was outside taking a break from her duties in loss prevention.
One of the people glanced over at her.
“It gave me a red flag,” she said Tuesday.
Jaquay’s actions afterward to track the trio’s movements through the store and attempts to buy Visa gift cards at a self-checkout using what authorities said was a stolen credit card helped authorities nab the suspects. The trio told state police they were involved in a global identity theft crime ring, according to court papers.
Charges were held for court Tuesday during preliminary hearings for Maria Branchi, 26, Minodora Serban, 33, and Vasile Catola, 28, all of Baltimore. They used a Romanian interpreter during the hearing, but Trooper Keith Sobecki said they communicated with him in English during his interview with them.
They were arrested Nov. 9, and police said they purchased nearly $2,000 in gift cards. Additional gift card purchases totaling almost $2,000 were declined.
Jaquay testified during the hearing that one Visa gift card was purchased using the credit card, but the second attempt failed at the Hempfield store. She provided photographs of the suspects to other area Walmart stores, and they were found at the North Huntingdon location doing the same thing, according to testimony.
Sobecki testified that the suspects reported they were sent to the area to purchase gift cards and then provide them to a fourth person. Branchi told authorities they found the credit card lying on the ground. They told police they had been in the United States since August.
Despite a detainer for them filed by federal officials, defense attorney Gary Gerson requested bond be set for all three suspects. They have been held without bail at the Westmoreland County Prison since their arrest.
“They’ve admitted to being part of a criminal enterprise from another state, so I’m not going to disturb the bond,” District Judge Mark Mansour said.
Branchi, Serban and Catola are charged with corrupt organizations, theft, access device fraud, receiving stolen property and related offenses.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .