By Michelle Graff
San Diego--The former owner of Romano’s Jewelers stores pleaded guilty to charges of identity theft and fraud in a California court this week for his role in a scheme that targeted U.S. Marines who shopped at his stores.

Tanya Sierra, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, confirmed that Ramil Abalkhad pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit identity theft, theft by false pretense and identity theft with intent to defraud.

He also was ordered to pay $55,000 in restitution to victims. Sierra said if he pays the full amount by the scheduled date of his sentencing, Feb. 21, 2017, he will be sentenced to probation or up to 365 days in jail, to be determined by the judge.

If he does not pay the full amount, he faces three years in county jail, with the possibility of the sentence being shortened for good behavior, she said.

Abalkhad, who is known as Randy, former Romano’s Jewelers store manager Carlos Torres and former store employee Nellie Cha Noland first were charged in the case in March 2015 in California Superior Court, following a criminal investigation by the U.S. Marine Corps.

According to the original complaint, Abalkhad told Noland to obtain the social security numbers of active duty military personnel who were customers of Romano’s Jewelers and had credit accounts with the store.

Then, Abalkhad allegedly told Noland to ask a Marine named Kymani Tate to use the social security numbers to reset the passwords of other Marines’ Defense Finance Account Service (DFAS) MyPay accounts. MyPay functions like a bank account and can be directly linked to other financial accounts so money can be withdrawn to pay bills.

After the passwords were changed, unauthorized payments were made to Romano’s Jewelers via the MyPay accounts, court papers state.

Despite the accusations made in court papers, Abalkhad’s attorney A. David Youssefyeh said Tuesday that his client chose to plead guilty in the case only after learning the details of his employees’ actions because “he felt that pleading guilty for his lack of supervision of his employees and offering to pay the losses sustained was his duty, regardless of his personal involvement in what happened.”

Online case information provided by the San Diego County District Attorney shows that Torres, who pleaded guilty in the case in September, and Noland, who was the first to enter a plea in the case, also are scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 21.

Sierra said Torres and Noland both face up to a year in prison and three years of probation.

While a number of Romano’s Jewelers stores have closed in recent years, the retailer’s website indicates that there are still four stores under the nameplate in operation.

Youssefyeh said that Abalkhad is not involved in the management of the remaining Romano’s stores.

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