Federal courthouse
Federal courthouse in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

Five men were charged by San Diego federal prosecutors with stealing “tens of thousands of dollars” in public-assistance benefits from low-income families, it was announced Tuesday.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the defendants used card skimmer devices to steal account information from recipients of state-issued Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. The skimming devices were typically placed on ATMs or stores’ card-swiping machines to copy recipients’ info, then the stolen info was used to create “cloned” cards.

Prosecutors say stores in National City, Sherman Heights, and El Cajon were targeted.

Prosecutors said one of the victims is a local single mother of four “whose EBT account was drained in early June,” depriving her of money needed to buy diapers and pay rent.

Two of the defendants — Constantin Irimia, 40, of Iasi City, Romania, and Devonte Linell Pipkins, 25, of Ecorse, Michigan — appeared in court Tuesday morning. The three other defendants — Radu Grosu,  35, of Rockville, Maryland; Gabriel Ionita, 35, of Bucharest, Romania; and Richard Calin, 23, of Bucharest, Romania — are set to appear in court on Friday.

Stolen EBT account information has resulted in the theft of nearly $40 million since August 2022, according to the California Department of Social Services.

City News Service contributed to this article.