“I have only seen it in the movies and didn’t realize it was true until I met these guys. It was immaculate, there are people walking around making $1 Million in a week.”
Those are the words of Forrest Beard, a Nashville man arrested last week by Cheatham County deputies. The 29-year-old is accused of working with international credit card skimmers from Romania.
Cheatham County deputies arrested the three men who had thousands in cash, stolen gift cards, and eight skimmers that fit over point-of-sale devices.
Upon their arrest, one of the Romanian nationals said they came to America to steal from Americans because it is a victimless crime.
The case broke on Dec. 12, that’s the evening Cheatham County deputies pulled Forrest Beard over for a temporary tag violation.
From the Cheatham County Jail, Forrest Beard acknowledges he felt that tag might get them in trouble.
“They pulled us over. They had every right. Asked for consent and I consented.”
News 2 asked Beard about the allegations of stealing credit card data.
Beard said, “That is the allegation, but we were not doing anything when we got caught.”
The men were stopped, and deputies discovered fake ID’s and passports. Inside the car, investigators seize 159 gift cards loaded with stolen financial data and when asked to explain that, Beard said this.
“There’s nothing to explain on. That it is what it is.”
Deputies found $6,000 in cash multiple computers and eight high tech skimming devices, designed to fit over existing point-of-purchase machines.
Andy: “Basically you took money, skimmed money?”
Beard: “I wouldn’t say everybody did.”
Andy: “So, you say you didn’t?”
Beard: “It was in the car, but I knew it was there, 100 percent knew it was there.”
The 29-year-old told News 2 he had been hanging with Madalin Palanga, 31, the so-called “mastermind” of the operation, for months. He says they met in a Nashville bar.
Palanga lists his address as Pine Street in The Gulch. When asked about detectives’ claims the men were wiring hundreds of thousands of dollars back to Romania, Beard said he knew about it.
Andy: “So, you are telling me that you didn’t sit there and transmit someone’s data, but you knew the equipment was there and they were doing that?”
Beard: “Oh yeah, no doubt.”
Andy: “Are they part of a bigger composite, syndicate?”
Beard: “I wish I could tell you that because it bugs me to know.”
Andy: “Are they part of the cartel?”
Beard: “I can’t tell you. They wouldn’t tell me stuff like that. They do not trust Americans.”
Andy: “They trust you?”
Beard: “They trusted me to a point.”
Andy: “Your story educated me. I put gas in my car and shook that thing.”
Beard: “They don’t touch gas pumps anymore, that is a thing of the past. ATM’s gas pumps.”
Andy: “How would you protect yourself from a guy like that?”
Beard: “They’ve taught me enough where I can walk in a store and tell you there’s something there now. Do not run debit cards, not until they switch to the CCV systems. You run credit they can’t touch nothing. If you have a chip, they can’t touch nothing. You are protected. So, they want swipers with pin numbers is all they want.”
According to Beard, the money being made by skimmers is unbelievable.
“You see it in the movies, but I didn’t realize it was true until I met these guys. The money they made. There are people walking around making millions a week. Millions. I have heard the stories, met these people.”
Andy: “Are these guys?”
Beard: “No. They are lower in the branch. But there are people that literally are making $2 Million in cash walking around. Sending it back. Sending a little at a time.”
Andy: “I saw that guy Mike (Madalin Palanga) living in The Gulch. That’s high rent.”
Beard: Yeah, champagne every night. $500- $600 meals. I guess so. Before I jumped in. Before I knew what was going on, I knew something was going on. I knew that money, he said he was selling cars, but I never saw a car a day in my life.”
Andy: “You saw cash?”
Beard: “A lot of cash. Every time we went out, he ordered bottles, and this, I didn’t argue, I knew where it was coming from.”
The men had been in the Cheatham County Jail under no bond. Wednesday, as first reported on News 2, a Cheatham County Judge granted the trio bond of $74,999.
Detective Ken Miller with the Cheatham County Sheriff’s Office says the department does not agree with giving the Romanian nationals bond, fearing they will flee, and leave the country.
“Frustrated and angry, one thing they say, it’s the bank’s money it doesn’t matter, and the banks pay it back from the people we take it from.”
Detective Miller says these Romanian nationals have stolen more than a half a million dollars from unsuspecting people using state of the art skimming devices.
“This is a big-time operation,” Miller said.
While the men may have been granted a bond in Cheatham County, there is no reason to believe they will be released any time soon. News 2 has confirmed that law enforcement in Mississippi has contacted Cheatham investigators about the case.
Officials told News 2 the men are now suspects in that jurisdiction for similar crimes. There is now a hold on the men while other agencies arrange for possible extradition.
Still no word on whether the feds are going to take over this case.