LOS ANGELES (AP) – Two men were indicted Friday on charges of bilking winners of online auctions out of $150,000 by making them think their money would go to Hurricane Katrina relief organizations, authorities said.

Leontin Salageanu, 26, and Teodor Manolache, 29, were charged with wire fraud, identity fraud, Social Security fraud and conspiracy in a 10-count indictment, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

The indictment alleges that Salageanu and Manolache, both Romanian nationals, staged bogus auctions on eBay, Yahoo and Autotrader.com while posing as Katrina relief organizations. They posted items for sale, instructed winning bidders to send payments by Western Union and used false identification to collect the money, the indictment alleges.

The bidders never received items they paid for, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Rozella Oliver. The FBI investigated the pair after dozens of consumers complained.

Manolache remained at large and was believed to be in the Miami area, authorities said. Salageanu was arrested Sept. 19 and released on $20,000 bond. He was assigned to a federal public defender, Oliver said.

The wire fraud count carries up to 20 years in prison, while the identity fraud count carries up to 10 years. The conspiracy and Social Security fraud charges each carry up to five years in prison.

Meanwhile, an Illinois woman pleaded guilty Friday to receiving nearly $6,000 in Katrina disaster aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Tina Marie Winston, 34, who also goes by Tina Gilmore, also admitted to defrauding other agencies out of more than $18,000 over 12 years by failing to report her marriage and income.

She claimed her New Orleans home was damaged by Katrina and that she watched her two daughters die in the flooding, said Randy G. Massey, acting U.S. attorney. But Winston has no children and was living near St. Louis during Katrina, authorities said.

In September 2005, Winston used a fake Social Security number to file for hurricane assistance online. She received $4,358 from FEMA and spent $1,321.54 more with a FEMA debit card.

Winston was arrested in June and has been held without bail. Her phone number is unlisted, and it was unclear Friday whether she had an attorney.

AP-ES-10-07-06 0557EDT


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