Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008 | 4:15 p.m.
Local and federal authorities announced they have charged 15 persons with federal credit card fraud and identity crimes resulting in victim losses of $1.5 million throughout the Las Vegas Valley.
Thirteen defendants were arrested as of this morning and authorities said the remainder of the arrest will be made by the end of Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Greg Brower said.
The defendants are charged in five separate federal indictments, which were returned on Nov. 18. The indictments allege that the defendants were stealing customer credit and debit card information from local businesses and manufacturing counterfeit cards used to obtain hundreds or thousands of dollars from businesses. Authorities have estimated that 1,000 credit and debit cards were compromised.
The defendants were arrested in the Las Vegas and Los Angeles areas by members of a Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force following a two-year investigation. Brower would not comment on which countries the defendants were from.
The task force was formed more than two years ago in response to the growing presence of Eurasian organized crime in the southwestern U.S., particularly Las Vegas.
The defendants named in the indictments are Alen Torosyan, Tigran Saponjyan, Paulette Vartan, Arytom Matevosyan, Mikayel Akopyan, Gergana Hristova, Gor Krkhyan, Arman Palikyan, Hagob Palikyan, Armen Ambartsumyan, Vakhtang Gasparian and Krystalyn Northwick. All have been arrested but Gasparian.
Artur Ambartsumyan has been charged in a criminal complaint and one other defendant has been charged in a sealed indictment.
Brower said the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be looking into the status of each individual.
The defendants used a process called “skimming” where individuals steal the magnetic information placed on the rear of cards using a “wedge." The defendants used this type of skimming equipment at businesses to capture credit and debit card information and personal identification numbers, Bower said. The "wedge" would steal the information from a credit card while it was swiped through a credit card machine for a transaction, he said. Authorities believe the businesses were not involved in the scam, he said.
“These indictment should sent two messages: First, to all of us who use such cards, be very careful…The second message is for those who are committing these crimes. Be warned that the very considerable resources of the FBI, Secret Service and local police departments are increasingly becoming devoting to investigating this type of crime,” Brower said.
Most of the defendants were scheduled to appear before a U.S. Magistrate judge at 3:00 p.m. Tuesday.