April 26, 2023

WALTON COUNTY, Fla— Four Romanian nationals connected to an organized criminal network are apprehended in Missouri after an investigation into the theft of more than $1 million in jewelry from a business in Walton County.

On the afternoon of April 11th, three individuals, including two females and one male, entered a store on 30A stealing numerous pieces of jewelry with a retail value of more than $1 million. The three fled from the area in a black SUV following the theft.

A Walton County Sheriff’s Office investigator responding to the scene immediately recognized the suspects from a case he worked on in December of 2022 where a Rolex was stolen from a Miramar Beach jeweler using a sleight-of-hand technique. The same three individuals, plus another male, were persons of interest.

A week after the theft on 30A, the black SUV was reported abandoned at a business on Serenoa Road in Santa Rosa Beach. Investigators were able to speak to a woman who had given three individuals a ride from the area after they claimed their car had broken down. One of the suspects had used his phone to communicate with her after she dropped them off. All three matched the description of the suspects. Video surveillance later confirmed it was the same three individuals who had committed the theft on 30a.

An investigator with Walton County Sheriff’s Office immediately submitted a warrant for tracking the cell phone and was connected to a New York Police Department Detective thanks to a retired NYPD cop who works with our agency.

The NYPD Detective along with a police officer in the United Kingdom, was able to confirm with the WCSO Investigator the group was part of a Romanian criminal network with more than 1400 members in the United States with warrants in more than half a dozen states.

The suspects were identified as George Paun, 31, Stela Sava, 26, Terca Tarnovan, 31, and Vasile Lacatus, 27, all Romanian nationals.

On Monday, April 24th the cell phone belonging to Vasile led investigators to a home in St. Charles, Missouri. All four were located and arrested, charged with grand theft over $20,000, grand theft in concert with one or more person for the Rolex theft in 2022.

Sava, Tarnovan, Lacatus also have warrants for grand theft over $100,000, grand theft in concert with one or more person for the merchandise stolen at the store on 30A.

Additional jurisdictions across the country are continuing their investigations into these suspects including the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and multiple state and local agencies.

Walton County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank St. Charles Police Department (MO), New York Police Department, and Northumbria Police Department in the United Kingdom for their assistance in identifying and apprehending these individuals in addition to the State Attorney’s Office for their help in obtaining subpoenas, arrest warrants, and more.