LOS ANGELES– Authorities this morning arrested four defendants charged with federal fraud and identity theft charges for allegedly participating in a scheme that installed credit card “skimmers” inside gas pumps at gas stations across Southern California and Southern Nevada.
A criminal complaint charges eight defendants – three of whom are fugitives at this time – with participating in a conspiracy that secretly installed electronic devices known as skimmers inside of gas pumps that were equipped with point of sale terminals. When gas station customers swiped their credit or debit cards through the device that reads the magnetic strips on the back of their cards, the information was stored on the skimmers that were hidden inside the gas pumps. According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, members of the conspiracy were able to later retrieve the account information without going back inside the gas pumps by using Bluetooth-equipped devices, such as cellular phones or tablets.
According to an affidavit by a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service, participants in the conspiracy manufactured skimmers with parts purchased at electronics stores. At the gas stations, they allegedly used large vans to conceal their activities as they forced open panels on the gas pumps and installed the skimming devices that were not visible to customers who used their credit cards at the pumps.
The affidavit outlines how the organization installed dozens of skimmers at gas stations operated by different companies in areas that include San Gabriel, Burbank, North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Eagle Rock, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Torrance, Long Beach, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Tustin, Fountain Valley, the Coachella Valley and Las Vegas, Nevada.
“Identity theft causes significant harm to individuals as well as imposing costs on society overall,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Members of the public are entitled to use their credit and debit cards at gas stations without fear that their identities could be stolen. The collective consequence of such criminal activity is that thousands of people have had their personal information compromised and now they must undertake substantial efforts to protect their identities.”
In conjunction with this morning's arrests, investigators executed a series of search warrants. At one location, they found materials indicating that members of the conspiracy were actively involved in the manufacture of counterfeit credit cards.
The eight defendants named in the criminal complaint are:
· Nazar Daniyelyan, 47, of Sun Valley, who was arrested;
· Ruben Karapetyan, 39, of Porter Ranch, who was arrested;
· Armen Khalulyan, 30, of Los Angeles, who is a fugitive;
· Arutyan Oganyan, 41, of North Hollywood, who is a fugitive;
· Grigor Pambukyan, 26, of Van Nuys, who was arrested;
· Arsen Terzyan, 32, of Van Nuys, who was arrested;
· Anthony Tngryan, 26, of Van Nuys, who is a fugitive; and
· Oganes Tagaryan, 23, of North Hollywood, who is expected to surrender to authorities in the near future.
The four taken into custody this morning are expected to make their initial court appearances this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The eight defendants are charged with conspiracy to possess 15 or more unauthorized access devices. If they are convicted of this charge, each would face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
If any member of the public has information concerning the three fugitives in this case, they are urged to contact the Secret Service at (213) 533-4400.
“This conspiracy case demonstrates the effectiveness of multijurisdictional partnerships in the dismantling of criminal enterprises targeting innocent American citizens, “ said L. Robert Savage, III, the Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service's Los Angeles Field Office. “This investigation and the resulting arrests should serve as a warning to criminals that law enforcement will not cease pursuing them.”
The investigation into the credit card skimming ring is ongoing. At this point, authorities have no estimate for the loss that may be associated with the stolen credit card information.
The case was investigated by the Los Angeles Fraud Task Force (LAFTF), which is an ongoing partnership between the U.S. Secret Service and the Los Angeles Police Department. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the Glendale Police Department, the U.S. Marshal's Fugitive Task Force and the Drug Enforcement Administration assisted in the investigation.
USAO – California, Central Updated October 22, 2015
Central District of California DOJ / 15-114 / October 21, 2015