GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A federal complaint filed last week details new information in the arrest of several people accused of taking part in a conspiracy to rip off unwitting gas station customers.
The scheme involved nine suspects who authorities say implanted skimming devices in gas pumps around the state. They then returned to collect the devices and used the information to create fake replicas of the victims’ credit cards, federal authorities alleged in their complaint.
The group would then use the fake cards at big box stores to purchase stored value cards (SVCs) or gift cards. By the time the victims realized something was amiss, the damage had been done.
>>PDF: The federal complaint
Credit card companies soon realized that the defrauded customers had something in common.
“Loss-prevention officers at the banks that held the accounts were then able to determine that the common thread running between the compromised accounts was that the account holders had all purchased gasoline at the same pumps at the same gas stations shortly before the unauthorized purchases were made,” the federal complaint reads.
Investigators closed in on suspects in a variety of ways.
In one case, officers got information about the vehicle suspects were using. Police followed the vehicle to a West Michigan Meijer store, where the alleged perpetrators purchased a number of SVCs.
In another case, the officers got a report of a skimmer being placed in a gas pump in Grand Ledge. Instead of removing the device immediately, undercover officers waited to see who came back to get the device. Eventually, two suspects showed up to get it. They were arrested at the scene. One of them was found to have keys to the gas pumps on their person.
Another bust netted three suspects after officers watched two vehicles they believed were involved at a Grandville hotel. Once the suspects emerged from the hotel, they left in two separate cars. Police followed and pulled one of the cars over, the documents report.
Officers searched the first car and found nothing. But when officers located the second vehicle, they allegedly saw the suspects hiding evidence in the framework of the car. Police say they also discovered SVCs nearby, wrapped in black underwear and thrown into the weeds.
The suspects were arrested.
Juan Estrada-Galvez, Manuel Perez-Cabrera, Michel Velazquez-Gregori, Raul Gonzalez Falcon, Yunier CudeIIo-Albelo, Yaimari Gonzalez-Santos, Juan Ledesma and Elisabe Hernandez-Perez are named in the federal complaint.
A ninth suspect, 17-year-old Maria Sanchez-Figueredo, was not named in the federal complaint but has been brought up on local charges.
Information about what will happen to the suspects’ local charges now that federal filings have been made was not immediately available.
The federal records claim that the suspects are “Cuban nationals.” Two of them claimed to have been “sent to Michigan from Austin, Texas by a Cuban known to them… for the purpose of installing skimmers…” 24 Hour News 8 is not publishing the name the pair allegedly mentioned.
It’s not clear whether officers made contact with the person mentioned or if any other arrests have been made in the case.
The suspects have been accused of fraud and conspiracy charges. Those named in the federal complaint await indictment.
Anyone who notices fraudulent charges on their card statement and thinks they may be the victim of a skimmer should contact their bank and their local police. You can also call the MDARD Weights and Measures Division at (517) 655-8202.