LOS ANGELES — Three Los Angeles-area residents have been indicted by a federal grand jury following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Secret Service that allegedly revealed the defendants orchestrated a far-reaching scheme to import and produce counterfeit debit and credit cards.
The defendants - Jose Rolando Renderos, 38, of Montebello; his son, Jose Ulloa, 18, of San Bernardino; and Milagro del Carmen Alvarez Hernandez, 27, of Montebello - are charged in a nine-count indictment handed down Tuesday with a variety of violations, including access device fraud; possession of counterfeit access devices; and trafficking in counterfeit goods. All three defendants are currently in federal custody. They are expected to be arraigned Feb. 25.
According to the case indictment, defendants Renderos and Ulloa would obtain blank counterfeit credit cards from China. The phony cards bore the names and logos of such well-known financial institutions as American Express, Capitol One, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo. The indictment alleges the father and son then embossed and activated the counterfeit cards using actual credit card numbers illegally obtained from point of sale devices.
"Credit card fraud scams like this result in major losses for the affected financial institutions and it's ultimately consumers who pay the price," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. "HSI will continue to work closely with its federal law enforcement partners to target criminal schemes that undermine the integrity of our financial system."
The defendants allegedly kept unembossed card stock in a storage unit in Monterey Park. When federal agents executed a search warrant at the location Feb. 6, they recovered a cache of more than 80,000 cards, along with an embossing machine and multiple credit card skimmers. So far, investigators have seized more than 90,000 counterfeit credit cards in connection with the case. Given the minimum credit limit of $500 per card, authorities conservatively estimate the value of the phony access devices at $45 million.
"Cooperation and partnerships have allowed us to focus our resources and respond quickly to uncover and prevent these types of crimes, whether they originate within or outside our borders," said U.S. Secret Service, Los Angeles Field Office Special Agent in Charge Joseph F. Beaty Jr.
The probe into the credit card scheme is still ongoing, but investigators believe the defendants may have been using the counterfeit cards to purchase high-end merchandise for re-sale. According to the indictment, Alvarez used one of the counterfeit cards in December to purchase more than $1,600 worth of merchandise at a children's boutique in Los Angeles.
The probe leading to Tuesday's indictments began two weeks ago after officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) intercepted four packages from China that were being shipped to San Bernardino, Calif. Inside, officers discovered more than 12,000 counterfeit credit cards.
The probe is being spearheaded by HSI with substantial assistance provided by the Los Angeles Field Office and Riverside Residence Office of the U.S. Secret Service.