SAN DIEGO – A couple known to travel throughout San Diego County to target elderly people was sentenced Tuesday to local custody and to prison, said the San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan in a press release.

Wife and husband, Simona Paun and Daniel Miclescu, targeted three people in August and September, officials said, pretending to sell jewelry before forcefully stealing one person’s Rolex watch and another person’s purse, which had $850 in cash inside.

The third victim rejected the couple’s proposal to purchase jewelry at a Mira Mesa parking lot one day, and then the next day, Paun and Miclescu followed the woman’s home, Stephan said. The woman was able to slam the door once the couple tried to force their way in.

“These type of traveling thieves have been prolific in San Diego County, around California and across the country for the past two years and often approach victims in parking lots at local shopping centers or within residential neighborhoods, in upscale rental vehicles,” Stephan said. “Let this prosecution and sentencing be an example to would-be thieves that we will not tolerate these organized criminal acts.” 

Miclescu was sentenced to four years in state prison while Paun received one year of local jail as well as probation, Stephan said. They both pleaded guilty on Dec. 9.

The couple was part of a nationwide involving hundreds of suspects who usually make conversation with someone in a shopping area parking lot or while they are on a walk, according to the DA’s office. The communication starts with the suspects asking for directions or saying they were robbed and need help. Many times, the suspects say they are from Dubai and need help returning home.

“Once the victims begin talking to the suspects and letting their guard down, the suspects use distraction and sleight of hand techniques to steal necklaces, watches, rings and cash,” the release said. “In some cases, when the suspect is unsuccessful, force is used to steal the jewelry.”

The San Diego Police Department has arrested 13 people in San Diego and other counties in Southern California in related crimes, Stephan said.

Since 2021, local law enforcement have received over 75 reports of similar thefts and attempted thefts involving dozens of suspects who disproportionally target seniors and Asian victims in the Mira Mesa neighborhood and in National City.