Romano’s Jewelers Owner Pleads Guilty To Identity Theft

Romano’s Jewelers owner Ramil Abalkhad pleaded guilty to multiple charges of identity theft associated with a 2012 U.S Marine Corps criminal investigation detailed in documents NBC 7 Investigates obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The charges include identity theft, conspiracy and fraud allegedly targeting young Marines.

Abalkhad originally pleaded not guilty and the case was scheduled to go to trial early next year. Tuesday in a Vista courtroom, Abalkhad changed his plea, admitting guilt and entering into a plea deal with prosecutors.

According to the original criminal complaint, between 2010 and 2012, Abalkhad instructed jewelry store manager Carlos Torres and employee Nellie Cha Noland to obtain the personal financial information of Marine customers and then add unauthorized charges on their store credit accounts.

Torres and Noland pleaded guilty in the case earlier this year and agreed to be a cooperating witness against Abalkhad.

Abalkhad’s sentencing is expected to occur in February. The sentencing for Noland and Torres was scheduled to take place after the trial, according to a representative with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.

Click here to see the all of NBC 7 Investigates stories, in the series, “Jewelry Store Under Fire.”

The original 2012 Marine Corps investigation details how a Marine at the time provided personal financial information belonging to military members to the jewelry store in exchange for money, jewelry and a clean balance on his Romano’s store credit account.

Active military members have an account called Defense Finance Accounting Service (DFAS) MyPay. It is similar to a bank account and can be directly connected to other financial or loan accounts allowing the military member to have money withdrawn from the account to pay bills. Those automatic pay deduction to pay off loans are called allotments.

According to the complaint, the Romano’s employees would provide the former marine, Kymani Tate, with Social Security Numbers of military members who had store credit accounts with Romano’s. Tate would then find the corresponding DFAS MyPay accounts associated with those numbers and reset the passwords or pins. With the new pins, the Romano’s employees could gain access to the MyPay accounts and add unauthorized charges.

Abalkhad told Noland she would receive $10 for each MyPay account password she was able to reset, according to the complaint.

Noland then made a deal with Tate. According to the complaint, she offered to pay Tate $25 to reset MyPay account passwords on the accounts of active duty military members who were customers.

The complaint alleges how the employees and Tate would communicate through emails to exchange the personal information.

NBC 7 Investigates first began looking at Romano’s business practices in November 2014.

Click here to see the all of NBC 7 Investigates stories, in the series, “Jewelry Store Under Fire.”

After receiving numerous reports from military members nationwide that Romano’s Jewelers took advantage of them, NBC 7 Investigates looked into U.S. Marine Jacob Helmuth’s purchase of a necklace. Romano’s Jewelers calls it the “Mother’s Medal of Honor.”

The price tag of more than $2300 for the necklace and a watch raised a red flag. After sifting through purchase details, NBC 7 Investigates discovered there wasn’t much of a paper trail.

“They didn’t show me the percentage rate,” Helmuth told Nguyen. He was referring to the 29.9 percent interest rate included in his payment plan.

Click here to see that NBC 7 Investigates original story.

As a result of the NBC 7 Investigates story, the U.S. Navy warned all its sailors in the San Diego region about the company.

Several Romano’s Jewelers locations across Southern California, including three in San Diego County, closed or were in the process of shutting down last year, according to the business’ Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee.

NBC 7 Investigates is working for you. If you have more information about this or other story tips, contact us: (619) 578-0393, To receive the latest NBC 7 Investigates stories subscribe to our newsletter.

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