Jury convicts last of seven defendants in scheme that stretched from Texas to Colorado, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan
Antonio DeJesus Perez-Martinez, 44, of Austin, Texas, was convicted on January 30, of conspiracy to commit wire-fraud, credit account fraud, and aggravated identity theft after a four-day jury trial. Perez-Martinez, the last of eight defendants charged in the case and the overall leader of a conspiracy that at times involved over a dozen participants, remains in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending sentencing on May 15 before Chief Judge Robert J. Jonker, who presided over the trial.
The evidence at trial established that Perez-Martinez, a Cuban citizen and lawful permanent resident of the United States (“green-card” holder), recruited numerous other recently-arrived Cuban citizens, all of whom had entered the United States in 2014 under a special “parole” program that admits Cuban citizens who present themselves to immigration authorities at the border, into a fraud scheme that initially involved obtaining compromised credit-account data from illicit websites, encoding that data onto cards, and using the “cloned” cards to bulk-buy gift cards and stored-value cards.
During the Summer of 2015, Perez-Martinez switched from acquiring account data online to using “skimming” devices that his accomplices secretly installed inside gas-pumps, and also extended his group’s operation into West Michigan. Skimming devices capture the account data of any card used to purchase gas without interfering with the purchase, leaving the account holder unaware that the data has been compromised until it has been re-encoded onto cloned cards and used to make unauthorized purchases. Because skimming devices acquire account data firsthand, the numbers are more recent and more reliable than those acquired secondhand from online hackers, and the illegal profits are greater.
Perez-Martinez’ conviction brings the total number of convictions from the case to seven: Raul Gonzalez Falcon (29), Yunier Carballo-Pupo (34), Manuel Perez-Cabrera (38), and Michel Velazquez-Gregori (30), none of whom had prior criminal records and all of whom agreed to plead guilty and to cooperate with the investigation. All received sentences of 21 months in prison. Pedro Sanchez-Pupo (32) received a sentence of 37 months. A seventh defendant, Juan Estrada-Galvez, was allowed to plead guilty to a state misdemeanor in Kent County when the investigation determined that his involvement in the scheme was minimal.
Perez-Martinez faces maximum penalties of 30 years in federal prison for the conspiracy and ten years for the credit account fraud, as well as a mandatory two-year prison sentence for the aggravated identity theft charge that must be served after the sentences on the first two counts are complete.
“Identity-theft is a continually expanding and especially pernicious form of property crime,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge, “and the pump-skimmer scheme is an aggravated form of identity theft because it targets every citizen of West Michigan doing one of the most basic and necessary things we all have to do: putting gas in our tanks. Any person who comes to West Michigan on a skimmer crew had better understand that the odds of getting caught are good, and that if they are caught, they will be prosecuted in Federal court.”
“As demonstrated by Monday’s guilty verdict, the defendant orchestrated a fraudulent scheme in order to steal proprietary financial information from their victims through the use of credit card skimmers at local gas stations,” added David P. Gelios, Special Agent in Charge, Detroit Division of the FBI. “Criminals who engage in these types of plots exploit and manipulate the very technology that we depend on to conduct secure financial transactions in the retail marketplace. Furthermore, such high-tech criminal activity causes significant losses for both merchants and banking institutions. The FBI and its local, state and federal law enforcement partners remain committed to protecting consumers, businesses, and financial institutions from the fraud schemes of criminal enterprises like the one this defendant led.”
The case was investigated primarily by the FBI’s Lansing office, with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Grand Rapids Metro Fraud and Identity-Theft Team, the Grand Ledge Police Department, and the McAllen Police Department, McAllen, Texas. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagen W. Frank.