A Florida man was sentenced Tuesday to nine years in federal prison for planting credit card skimming devices inside gas pumps in Madison that were used to steal credit card numbers from unsuspecting customers.
U.S. District Judge William Conley said he didn’t impose the sentence on Alejandro Arias-Perez lightly, but said he felt compelled to hand down the sentence to send a message to others about the seriousness of “rampant credit card fraud that occurs, and you being at the leading edge of it.”
“What is sadly apparent from the record is how capable you are and how greatly misdirected your skills have been,” Conley said. “You said you did this to support your family, but you did this at the expense of an awful lot of people.”
In all, federal authorities said, Arias-Perez, 29, of Miami, had gathered about 50,000 stolen credit card numbers from which he created cards that were used to methodically make fraudulent purchases at stores in a number of states of items that were eventually sold for cash.
In November, Arias-Perez pleaded guilty to possession of a credit card skimming device that was placed at the Shell gas station at 4821 E. Washington Ave. A second count, for placing a skimmer at the BP station at 318 S. Park St., was dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
Under advisory federal sentencing guidelines, because of the scope of the thefts and Arias-Perez’s role as leader of an enterprise of more than five people, he could have received a sentence between 12½ and 15½ years. Conley said that range seems high for a white-collar crime, but given the need to send a message about credit card fraud, “it doesn’t strike me as an outrageous range.”
Arias-Perez was born in Cuba and grew up there with his mother after his father left for the U.S. when Arias-Perez was young. When Arias-Perez was 19, he followed his father to Miami and enrolled in college courses to learn English but dropped out. He went to work at multiple jobs until his arrest for possessing counterfeit credit cards that he used to make high-end purchases.
Arias-Perez served four months in jail, Conley said, but he was later arrested in Las Vegas for using a counterfeit credit card to buy drinks at a “gentleman’s club,” and served his time on probation in Florida. He was still on probation when, in August and September 2016, Arias-Perez went to Madison and Maple Grove, Minnesota, and set up credit card skimming devices on gas pumps.
The stolen numbers were used to make counterfeit credit cards which, along with fraudulent identification cards, were used by people recruited by Arias-Perez to buy gift cards and high-end merchandise that were shipped to Arias-Perez in Miami, where he sold them for cash.
That part of the scheme, in which purchases were made using fake cards and shipped to Arias-Perez, was the subject of a separate indictment handed down against Arias-Perez in December in U.S. District Court in Miami. In Florida, Arias-Perez is charged with mail fraud, unauthorized use of credit cards, unauthorized possession of credit cards, aggravated identity theft and possession of a firearm by a felon.
Arias-Perez will soon be sent to Miami to face those charges.
Arias-Perez initially said he didn’t intend to speak in court Tuesday because of the pending charges in Miami, but at Conley’s prompting he said he committed crimes because “I was maybe surrounded by the wrong people,” and blamed drug and alcohol use.
As the sentencing hearing began, Conley offered Arias-Perez the opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea in the Madison case, given that Conley said he intended to formulate his sentence taking into account some of the same information in the Florida indictment. The newer indictment was issued after Arias-Perez pleaded guilty in Madison. He declined to withdraw his guilty plea after consulting with his lawyer, Stephen Meyer.
Conley also said he would not say whether Arias-Perez’s eventual sentence in Florida should be concurrent or consecutive to the one he received Tuesday, leaving that up to the federal judge in Florida.
Arias-Perez, who is still a Cuban citizen, could be deported to Cuba once he finishes serving his sentences. Cuba, however, has been “recalcitrant” to take back its citizens who have been deported from the U.S., according to a Miami Herald story published in December.