BY VERONICA ROCHA
From the Glendale News-Press
Seven people were arrested Tuesday as part of an investigation into a sophisticated identity theft ring targeting thousands of victims, whose credit card information was stolen to purchase gas, police said.
The men — Edgar Alaverdyan, Karen Nazaryan, Serob Yegoyan, Edvard Martirosyan, Levon Mkrtchian and Emil Morkus — were allegedly making card-skimming devices, which were used to steal victims’ account information. They were also manufacturing credit cards that were recoded with the victims’ information to purchase gas, which was later resold to truckers, Glendale Police Sgt. Dan Suttles said.
“This is how they make their money,” he said.
The scheme could possibly result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in loss to the victims, Suttles added.
On Tuesday, detectives searched nine locations, including homes in Glendale, the San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles area, where they recovered evidence such as guns, credit cards, homemade card-skimming devices, computer equipment and two trucks used to store gas. Detectives also found $60,000 in cash.
The card-skimming devices were placed into numerous gas pumps. Account information was then stolen from victims who swiped their credit cards to purchase gas, and it was re-encoded onto blank cards.
The men used the cards to buy gas and reportedly pumped fuel into a Ford F-350 — which was altered to hold up to 300 gallons of gasoline, police said. Next, they made trips to Los Angeles-based Quantum Trucking, which has a parking lot for truckers where they sold the fuel for half of its value, police said.
“It can be extremely dangerous,” Suttles said. “It’s gasoline rolling down the street. We don’t know about it and it’s a homemade gas tank, so you have the potential for bad things to happen.”
Detectives from the Financial Crimes Unit launched the roughly seven-month-long investigation into the theft ring after officers stopped Mkrtchian and David Yezgatyan in January for a window tint violation, according to Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz.
During the stop, police recognized Mkrtchian as someone the Orange County Sheriff’s Department had requested that other law enforcement agencies be on the lookout for, he added. Police allegedly discovered a flash drive and an illegal re-encoded credit card, so they arrested the pair.
Detectives later obtained a warrant to search the pair’s physical therapy business in Glendale, where they discovered equipment to manufacture re-encoded credit cards.
Aided by the Los Angeles Police Department, the attorney general’s office, U.S. Secret Service and the Orange County and Los Angeles County sheriff’s departments, detectives continued their probe for months and discovered seven additional men were connected to the ring.
Police are still looking for Hratch Keyo, Vachik Babayan and Yezgatyan, who were not home during the searches.
Vachik Babayan’s wife, Karine Babayan, was arrested after detectives searched their home and discovered re-encoded cards inside her purse, Suttles said.
The men were taken into custody on suspicion of identity theft, possession of access card information and conspiracy.
Prosecutors with the attorney general’s office will likely file charges against the men in Los Angeles County, police said.