Eleven people were arrested in a series of early morning raids in Los Angeles and Orange counties Tuesday as part of federal identity-theft, credit card and narcotics probes.
A warrant was served by FBI agents and other law enforcement agencies about 6 a.m. in the 13800 block of Mansa Drive in La Mirada, said Laura Eimiller of the FBI. Additional searches were carried out in La Habra, Whittier and Norwalk.
Authorities said two other suspects remained at large. Initial federal court appearances were expected Tuesday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles for the suspects who were arrested.
The warrants were served in connection with a 27-count federal fraud indictment unsealed Tuesday detailing a credit and debit card “skimming” operation. Three other indictments involved drug and firearms charges.
Skimmers — small devices that can scan and store data from the magnetic strips on the back of credit and debit cards — were allegedly installed by conspirators in area restaurants, according to the indictment. The eateries were not identified.
Defendants would later retrieve the skimming devices, which were then used to re-encode new cards for shopping sprees at Apple, Toys R Us, The Home Depot and Nordstrom, the indictment alleges.
“You have individuals sometimes at commercial locations who will steal the identity of individuals by taking their credit card numbers and identity,” Eimiller said. “They will then replicate that card and the number and then proceed to use it at multiple other locations.”
The investigation mainly involved the FBI, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Huntington Beach Police Department, Eimiller said. Other agencies included the California Highway Patrol and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Skimming occurs most frequently at retail outlets that process credit card payments — particularly bars, restaurants and gas stations. Once the card is unknowingly run through the skimmer, the data is recorded, and the suspects can sell the information through a contact or on the internet, at which point counterfeit cards are made, authoriites said. The criminals go on a shopping spree with a cloned copy of the credit or debit card, and cardholders are unaware of the fraud until a statement arrives with purchases they did not intend.
Those charged in the 27-count fraud indictment are:
- Russell Jay “Big Dog” Ogden, 43, of La Mirada, who is a fugitive.
- Rudy Leo “Fats”/”Dreamer” Aguilar, 32, of Norwalk — who is also charged in a second indictment with distributing nearly two pounds of methamphetamine.
- Blaine Andrew Porlas, 51, of La Habra.
- Marco Anthony Alday III, 26, of Whittier.
- Milan “Bo” Vukelich, 37, of Artesia.
- Shelly Anne Ogden, who is Russell Ogden’s wife, 41, also of La Mirada.
- Leo Norman Aguilar, 32, of Norwalk.
- Ameer Adnan Yousef, 32, of La Mirada.
- Shawn Phillip Vasquez, 49, of Hesperia.
- And Lloyd Luis Leyh, 43, of Huntington Beach, who is also a fugitive.
Each defendant is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison. Most of the defendants are also charged in other fraud counts involving use of phony credit cards and aggravated identity theft.
Two additional defendants are charged in a narcotics-trafficking case involving methamphetamine:
— Gustavo Uribe “Big Boy”/”Goose” Meza, 24, of Whittier; and
— Peter “Uncle Pete” Chiapparine, 72, of South Gate.
The 11th defendant arrested is Norman Aguilar Jr., 35, of Norwalk — who is Leo Aguilar’s brother. He is charged in a fourth indictment that accuses him of trafficking about eight pounds of methamphetamine and federal firearms violations.
—City News Service
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