SALT LAKE CITY – A federal indictment unsealed Tuesday morning charges six individuals with conspiracy to steal money from customers at various gas stations in Utah and elsewhere. The indictment alleges the defendants and their co-conspirators executed the conspiracy by using Bluetooth enabled skimming equipment that they installed on the motherboard of the internal computer that controls the gas pumps. Victims of the alleged scheme lost at least $200,000.
Charged in the indictment are Yosbel Delgado-Valdes, age 40, Iraldo Pereda-Mendez, 32, Emmanuel Nina-Perez, 28, Jandry Artigas-Reyes, 35, and Yarislani Padron-Cruz, 35, all of Salt Lake City, and Yofre Napoleon Almonte, 47, a citizen of the Dominican Republic currently being held in the Davis County Jail on unrelated charges. In addition to Almonte, who is not a U.S. citizen, three defendants are legal permanent residents of the United States, one is a naturalized U.S. citizen, and one has an application pending for legal permanent resident status.
The skimming equipment contains a Bluetooth card reader/recorder that records information – such as customers’ credit card numbers and the name and zip code associate with the card – from the magnetic strip of customers’ cards as the customers insert the cards into gas pumps, according to the indictment. The defendants and their co-conspirators only needed to get within the necessary range of the Bluetooth skimming device to initiate a wireless Bluetooth connection to the device still inside the gas pump.
The indictment alleges the defendants then downloaded the digital credit card or debit card information that had been captured and stored in their skimming devices. They were then able to use the captured data to create duplicate “cloned” cards encoded with the same data as the customers’ authentic credit or debit cards.
After making the cloned cards, the defendants and their co-conspirators tested the cards by attempting small transactions – typically $1 – to identify which of the cloned cards were viable and could be used to make larger purchases.
After testing the cards, the defendants and their co-conspirators moved to what the indictment calls the “cash out” phase. The “cash out” phase generally involved large purchases of fuel, though they did make other purchases at gas stations and other retail stores. The fuel purchases were typically for vehicles they were driving, or for trusted associates/purchasers the defendants would meet, using the cloned cards to fill up their tanks. The defendants further used the cloned cards to fill external fuel tanks installed in the beds of their pickup trucks – later offloading that fuel into the tanks of semi trucks or into larger storage containers for future use or resale.
In furtherance of the scheme, the indictment alleges the defendants committed several overt acts. For example, on April 30, 2020, Artigas-Reyes and Pereda-Mendez visited the Tesoro gas station in Sunset, Utah, just after midnight and installed a Bluetooth skimmer in the pump. On May 21, 2020, they installed a Bluetooth skimmer in a pump at a Texaco station in Scipio. The indictment alleges the acts were for the purpose of committing bank fraud.
Using the cloned credit or debit cards, the defendants obtained at least $200,000 in funds from multiple financial institutions, the indictment alleges. For instance, on May 5, 2020, Almonte made a $100 purchase at Exxon Mobil Common Cents in Bountiful using a cloned JP Morgan Chase credit card. On May 27, 2020, Artigas-Reyes made an $89.41 purchase at the Exxon Mobile Common Cents in Salt Lake City using a cloned Capital One credit card. Nina-Perez made a $100 purchase at Murphy Express in Riverton using a cloned PNC bank credit card and Delgado-Valdes made a $99.84 purchase at the Home Depot in West Jordan using a cloned Wells Fargo credit card.
“Utah is a hotbed of fraud schemes. I have directed prosecutors and investigative partners to pull out all of the stops in our combined efforts to take on those who victimize Utah residents with their fraud schemes. In this bank fraud ring, allegations suggest persistence, sophistication and organization on the part of the charged conspirators. Investigators and prosecutors have tried to match and surpass those characteristics in their efforts to bring this matter to justice in federal court,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said today.
“We all routinely fill up our gas tanks, which means any one of us could have been victims of this alleged crime,” said Special Agent in Charge Paul Haertel of the Salt Lake City FBI. “While the financial losses are significant, the victims are also left with the burden of taking the necessary steps to recover from the damage of identity theft. The FBI is committed to holding the alleged perpetrators accountable. We encourage the public to regularly check their bank statements and report fraud to local law enforcement or the FBI.”
Each defendant is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud in the lead count of the indictment. Each defendant is also charged with one count of bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Almonte, who has three previous deportations from the country, is also charged with illegally entering the country after deportation. The potential maximum penalty for the conspiracy to commit bank fraud and bank fraud counts is 30 years in federal prison. Aggravated re-entry has a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. An aggravated identity theft conviction carries a two-year mandatory sentence, which runs consecutive to any other sentence.
Indictments are not findings of guilt. Individuals charged in an indictment are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.
Padron-Cruz, Artigas-Reyes, Nina-Perez, and Delgado-Valdes were arrested in Utah on Nov. 20. During the execution of search warrants in connection with the arrests, agents and law enforcement officers found more than $40,000 as well as skimming equipment and what agents believe to be hundreds of cloned credit cards.
These four defendants, along with Almonte, had an initial appearance on the charges in the indictment Tuesday and Wednesday. Almonte has been in custody on an unrelated charge. A federal arrest warrant is pending for Pereda-Mendez.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah are prosecuting the case. It is being investigated by agents and task force officers working with the FBI’s Cyber Task Force and the Salt Lake City Police Department.