With the help of Ukrainian computer hackers and a Hong Kong trading company, two men used stolen credit card accounts to buy about $150,000 worth of luxury items from stores in Tucson, Oro Valley and Marana.
Victor Gonzalez Coker, a 28-year-old U.S. citizen who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, was sentenced Nov. 21 in U.S. District Court in Tucson to three years in prison.
Hector Garcia Cortez, a 30-year-old Mexican citizen, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce, use or traffic counterfeit credit cards in June. He was sentenced Aug. 14 to time served after being in custody for eight months.
The men likely intended to resell the goods in Mexico for a profit, federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
With the counterfeit credit cards, the men purchased hundreds of high-end items such as Swarovski and Cartier bracelets, new iPhones, iPads, PlayStation and Xbox gaming consoles, Beats by Dre headphones, a FNH pistol, ammunition, and designer belts, purses, sunglasses and clothes.
In the last four months of 2016, Gonzalez and Garcia used the cards at La Encantada stores in Tucson, a Toys R Us on North Oracle Road, a Best Buy in Oro Valley, gas stations, Tucson restaurants like P.F. Chang’s and Daisy Mae’s Steakhouse, and Tucson Premium Outlet stores in Marana.
The stolen account numbers were placed on credit cards with fabricated names, such as “Rene Montalva,” “Luis Leon” and “Victor Gonzalez.” The credit cards were tied to 19 different financial institutions, such as Pima Federal Credit Union, Chase, Wells Fargo and the Royal Bank of Canada.
The scheme started to unravel when government agents discovered a shipment of blank cards from Hong Kong on its way to Gonzalez.
On Nov. 10, 2016, Customs and Border Protection officers at the Los Angeles International Airport intercepted a box of 2,000 blank credit cards Gonzalez had ordered from Lam Shen International Trade Co. in Hong Kong. The package arrived in Tucson the next day, where Homeland Security Investigations agents seized it.
Four days after the cards arrived in Tucson, HSI agents went to Gonzalez’s home near South Columbus Boulevard and East 25th Street with a search warrant and the box of blank credit cards.
As they searched Gonzalez’s home, agents found items such as Cartier and Tiffany & Co. jewelry and $13,057 in cash in three envelopes marked as payment for different people. At the time of the search, Gonzalez had 14 credit cards, 10 in the name “Luis Leon” and four in the name “Victor Gonzalez.”
On Nov. 18, 2016, Gonzalez surrendered himself for his outstanding arrest warrant. He was released on a $5,000 bond, but prosecutors said he continued to defraud various banks with the cards and use them with Garcia at stores like AJ’s Fine Foods and Gymboree in Tucson and Oro Valley.
About five weeks later, agents followed Gonzalez and Garcia during one of their shopping sprees. After charging more than $1,000 at a Best Buy in Oro Valley, the men headed to the outlet stores in Marana. There, Marana police questioned Garcia, and he said Gonzalez had given him the fake credit cards and ID cards and instructed him where to shop and what to buy.
At the time of arrest, Gonzalez had 16 credit cards in the fictitious name “Rene Montalva” and Garcia had 12 in the same name.
In Garcia’s sentencing memo, defense attorney Saul Huerta wrote Garcia chose to be involved in the scheme because he thought it would be “easy money.”
The pre-sentence report estimated the total loss from the men’s shopping sprees was over $150,000. Gonzalez was ordered to pay back $25,000 under the plea agreement.
In a separate case from earlier this year, four men from Mexico were indicted and sentenced for using credit card information from Ukraine to go on shopping sprees in Tucson, the Arizona Daily Star reported Sept. 25.
Anwar Barragan Flores, the ringleader of that conspiracy group, organized the shopping trips to resell the goods for a profit in Mexico. The four men’s involvement in the scheme lasted about two years, and racked up over $400,000 in fraudulent purchases using nearly 6,000 counterfeit cards.