Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Couple used homeless Romanians to commit complex fraud

Radu and Diana Nemes

Diana and Radu Nemes were arrested in Yelm, Washington on March 18, 2014. Romanian officials accuse them of skipping out on a tab of 53 million euros by declaring their imported fuel as for-industrial-use-only, but then selling it commercially. That’s the equivalent of $73 million–but that staggering sum is hardly the most interesting part of the story.

The couple are accused of using a local man and his winery as a financial front for their operation. Eagleview Hill Winery and Salida Wine Bar owner Doug McCrea met the Nemeses through the couple’s business manager, Greg Simmons, the retired marketing director for an unusual bit of entrepreneurship: Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment. As McCrea had always found Simmons and the RSE to be upstanding, forthright neighbors, he saw little reason to be suspicious of their newest followers.

J. Z. Knight (aka Judith Zebra Knight, born Judith Darlene Hampton) founded the School of Enlightenment in Yelm in 1988. A business school dropout, the Taos, New Mexico-born Knight claims to channel Ramtha the Enlightened One, a 35,000-year-old warrior spirit from the lost continent of Lemuria. Through Knight, Ramtha delivers ancient and Gnostic wisdom and calls for personal responsibility; his teachings also reflect the latest findings in neuroscience and quantum physics. Knight says that Ramtha led his people against the tyranny of their Atlantis oppressors, and that Hinduism worships him as Rama. Her follows hope to emulate Rama’s path to enlightenment, and to ascend to the “light body.” High-priestess Knight, 68, made $2.6 million in 2007 from Ramtha-related retreats, books, DVDs and CDs, including her breakout hit, “How to Become a Remarkable Life”

US attorneys say that the Nemeses’ visas have expired, and that they have been living on $5 million that they had filtered through Dubai, United Arab Emirates, with help from cohorts in the Romanian government. The Nemeses shenanigans may also implicate several homeless individuals in Romania, whose names they used to set up corporations to conceal the shady dealings around nearly one million tons of diesel. 20 Romanians have been charged. Apparently Radu, 38, handled the material operations, while Diana, 39, handled business arrangements.

The cash enabled the Nemeses to buy multiple properties around Yelm, including the 53 acres on which they were residing when arrested, and to construct a luxury home. They may own several Seattle pizzerias as well.

They told McCrea that they thought his business would be an interesting new investment for them. And, they said, if Diana Nemes was made majority owner, she could obtain a visa permitting her to stay in the US. McCrea agreed. In March 2013 Diana Nemes and McCrea signed an agreement, and the Nemeses invested $300,000 in the company.

The couple named Simmons, 68, Eagleview Hill’s business manager. In October 2013, they told McCrea that the business wasn’t doing well (his account disputed their conclusions, noting that the nature of winemaking means that there is a delay between making and selling the product). They demanded that they sell his share of the company–for an amount McCrea said would cover just a third of the business’s inventory. He refused, and they cut off the company’s funds. McCrea says that, with that cutoff, Diana Nemes was in violation of their operating agreement, and thus no longer the majority owner of the company.

Radu and Diana Nemes are now facing extradition. McCrea told the Daily Mail that he bears them no ill will, and just worries about how the couple’s alleged crime will affect their two young children.

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