WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in partnership with the U.S. Secret Service (USSS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations (CBP AMO), U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office (PBSO), announced the results of an 18-month investigation led by ICE that targeted a Palm Beach County criminal organization that used stolen credit card numbers to defraud local businesses out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The defrauded businesses included Murphy Oil, Wal-Mart and a number of independently-owned businesses and gasoline stations throughout Palm Beach County.
Fourteen individuals had been indicted as a result of the investigation and 13 of them have already pled guilty to access device fraud. Yesterday in federal district court in West Palm Beach, two remaining defendants, Eldis Julian Diaz, 42, and Ricardo Ruiz, 45, pled guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra. The other defendants who have been convicted in the case are Javier Alonso-Gomez, 19, Felix Medero Garcia, 29, Juan Edel Dominguez, 26, Alcides Cabrera Toledo, 38, Yoanky Lopez Jorge, 25, Damian Luna Rodriguez, 36, Felix Armas Luna, 38, Oscar Montiel Martinez, 30, Yunier Garcia Olivera, 27, Osmany Garcia Olivera, 32, and Daniel Yanes Hernandez, 24. Each defendant faces a statutory maximum term of imprisonment of 15 years. Felix Montesino-Castillo, 30, also indicted in the case, remains a fugitive from justice.
ICE special agents in West Palm Beach initiated this investigation following a Nov. 14, 2007, alien smuggling event that resulted in a death at sea. The goal was to identify and dismantle the alien smuggling organization. During the investigation, agents uncovered the massive credit card fraud and fuel theft ring.
As explained during court hearings in the case, the organization's leaders obtained stolen credit card numbers from internet wholesalers and from local confederates using credit card "skimming" devices. The credit card numbers were then encoded on to gift cards, credit cards, drivers' licenses, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) work authorization cards which members of the organization used to purchase large quantities of fuel and other items such as cars, trucks, speedboats, trailers, jet skis and other consumer goods. Some of the vehicles that members of the organization used were outfitted with illegal fuel tanks. For example, a van that one of the defendants had been driving had over 700 gallons of fuel stored on board in four containers.
"This organization not only jeopardized public safety by illegally transporting huge amounts of explosive fuel in makeshift containers, they also indiscriminately used people's good credit to support their criminal activities," said Anthony V. Mangione, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Miami.
"Credit card fraud victimizes innocent people and, as this case demonstrates, is often a gateway to further criminal activity. The fuel thefts committed using stolen credit card information recklessly risked victimizing even more Palm Beach County residents," said Acting U. S. Attorney Jeffrey H. Sloman.
As reported during court hearings, law enforcement officials working with the Murphy Oil Criminal Investigations Division obtained video evidence of the defendants' criminal activities. During a two-week period in September 2008, for example, the defendants stole thousands of dollars of fuel from certain Palm Beach County Murphy Oil fuel stations. Following the arrest of the defendants, two semi-tractor trailer trucks and one pickup truck were seized from members of the organization. Financial losses caused by the defendants' fraud totaled approximately $750,000.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John McMillan.