A San Diego-based Marine told a judge he was young, scared and felt obligated to buy something when approached by employees of Romano's Jewelers in 2011.
The Marine testified in a Vista courtroom Wednesday as part of a criminal case against Romano's store owner Ramil Abalkhad. Owner Ramil Abalkhad and Romano’s manager Carlos Torres and were charged following a 2012 U.S Marine Corps criminal investigation detailed in documents NBC 7 Investigates obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
The Marine was testifying prior to the scheduled trial because he is being deployed. The judge asked that the Marine not to be identified. He based at Camp Pendleton in Oct. 2011 when he says he sat through a Romano's sales presentation. He said he had no intention to buy any jewelry and was “just being nice.”
The Marine was questioned by both the prosecutor and one of Abalkhad’s defense attorneys in court Wednesday. During the questioning, the Marine said he signed paperwork, but didn’t “read it thoroughly,” and provided store employees with personal information, including his social security number.
“I started to leave the store and I was held back,” the Marine told the judge. “I was told since I signed something I was obligated to buy something from the store.” In the end he said he bought a Mother’s Medal of Honor for his mom.
“I was contacted by my bank to start payment,” the Marine said. “I already had the items and I couldn't return them.”
According to the original criminal complaint, between 2010 and 2012, Abalkhad instructed manager 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.
In February, San Diego Judge Blaine Bowman decided 13 of the 23 charges against Abalkhad and Torres would move forward. The charges included identity theft, conspiracy and fraud allegedly targeting young Marines.
Abalkhad's trial is set for November 1. He has pleaded not guilty. Torres pleaded guilty earlier this month. Noland pleaded guilty earlier this year and agreed to be a cooperating witness against Abalkhad and Torres. The sentencing for her and Torres is set to take place after the trial, according to a representative with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.
David Youssefyeh, an attorney for Romano’s has previously told NBC 7 Investigates that “any owner or supervisor of Romano's” had no idea that any of this was going on.