A few days ago, the Romanian police apprehended a thug from Neamţ County in eastern Romanian, who had committed several robberies in France. The police announced “the catch” on December 8. Subsequently, the attention of the Romanian media turned – again – to the mafia-type group called the “Academy of Felons.” The ziare.com news portal recently published a piece recounting the short story of the infamous criminal organization, which functioned according to military rules and codes. The members of the “Academy” were primarily focused on robbing luxury stores in Europe and favored the lavish shops of Milano, Paris, Strasbourg and Torino.
Ioan Vandana, the 30-year-old individual who ended up in police custody, was a former “student” of the “Academy of Felons,” ziare.com wrote. He was arrested seven years after committing a robbery in Paris. The French authorities issued an international arrest warrant for Vandana after he and some other individuals, armed with hammers and axes, broke into a luxury store in Paris in October 2013 and stole mostly jewelry and luxury watches. The total amount of damage was estimated to be EUR 1.1 million.
According to ziare.com, the “Academy of Felons” was a group of thieves founded in 2011 by a Piatra-Neamţ mobster named Adrian Marin Botez, otherwise known by the nickname “Tâţă” (breast in Romanian).”
The “Professors” of the “Academy” are at the moment imprisoned, with “teacher” Botez having the longest prison sentence. The mobster kept on leading his criminal network from behind bars for quite some time, thus prosecutors and policemen working for the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) had to keep the members of the gang under surveillance for years. As DIICOT found out, the network had more than one hundred “executors,” all of them poached from Neamţ County and all instructed and trained in the know-how of robbing luxury stores.
In 2015, the deputy chief prosecutor of DIICOT, Giorgiana Hossu, told the media that “every attack of the gang lasted a maximum of 60 seconds, and every participant of the robbery had a well-defined role.” The recruited members of the “Academy,” the “students,” received their training in dwellings rented out for exactly this purpose, with the windows covered with black foil to hide their activities. Most of these “safe houses” were located in Bucharest and the counties of Ilfov, Kolozs (Cluj) and Constanţa.
All the recruits had their fingerprints taken by their “instructors,” and special files were put together, containing all the relevant data on their family members and friends, ziare.com wrote. “Students” were even questioned about their vices.
Training lasted between one month and a year, with instruction at times continued in Western European cities as well.
“During a 90-day training, participants were simply brainwashed,” said deputy chief prosecutor Hossu, adding that felons could have been blackmailed by their own organization, as DNA samples were collected from them, and in case of dissent, these could have been placed at crime scenes for investigators to find.
The DIICOT also discovered that the “Academy” had a strict system of rules, and all of the members had to know and respect this code. The document containing these internal regulations was 15 pages long, with five chapters.
For instance, according to the code, if one wanted to be a part of the group, one had to be 18 to 26 years of age, with a height of between 1.6 and 2 meters and a weight above 55 kilograms. Proper physical condition was an absolute prerequisite.
Jokes and gossip were strictly forbidden, members were not allowed to keep their hands in their pockets while in the presence of the “Academy” leader, and everyone was obliged to memorize the discussions regarding the robberies they had planned. “Never use names, you all have numbers. Never smoke or listen to music when going out on a job,” detailed the code. Furthermore, members of the “Academy” were not allowed to speak in Romanian during the robberies, had no phones, and weren’t allowed to use the internet.
The goods robbed were sent back to Romania in cars placed on auto-transport trailers, so thorough customs searches were avoided. The leader of the Academy demanded total discretion, with the felons being obliged to follow the rule of Omertà (i.e., the southern Italian code of honor that places the utmost importance on one’s silence when questioned by the authorities or outsiders.), meaning: “I do not see, do not hear and do not speak.”
Investigators determined that the secret to the gang’s successful robberies was that they were trained to commit their crimes within 60 seconds and disguised themselves every time. Two of the men had usually entered the store before the attack, dressed in expensive clothes, like Armani suits. They immobilized the guards, and then two other individuals came in and smashed all the shop cases with hammers and sledgehammers.
Another two men then had the job of collecting the jewels and the watches from the showcases. On completion of the robbery, every thug left in a different direction. The stolen goods were left in ditches that had been dug before, and then some other members came, took the merchandise and filled up the holes. The money that came from the sale of the stolen jewelry was handled by the leader, who divided the take between the members of the network, with some amounts being sent to the families of imprisoned companions. The targeted shops were not chosen randomly; the organizers of an attack would look up the value of the goods on sale at a given store beforehand.
The leader of the “Academy,” Marin Botez was sentenced irrevocably to 24 years, 2 months and 20 days of prison in March 2016 by the Bucharest Court of Appeals. According to the prosecutors of DIICOT, the members of his network had robbed 27 jewelry stores in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Denmark and had also committed other forms of theft in the UK and Andorra.
Investigators determined that the “Academy” had a pyramid structure, the top being its founder and supreme leader, with the lower echelons being controlled by trustworthy “officers.” At the bottom of the pyramid were the “executors,” young men and even minors, most of them from families with a poor socioeconomic background or with no family at all. When outlining the strategy of the robberies, Marin Botez used (and improved) the method of operation used by the criminal gang called the Pink Panthers, which was formed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. This method was based on violent behavior and threats to shock those attacked.
Title image: Members of the “Academy” were trained to rob a shop in maximum 60 seconds. The photo is an illustration. It was taken in 2015, when 14 “students” of the “Academy” were arrested