News and Press Releases

United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington

‘Skimming’ Sprees Across the West Ends with Seattle Area Arrests

Three Defendants involved with Two Different ‘Skimming’ Rings Make Court Appearances

September 7, 2011

Three defendants believed responsible for more than half a million dollars in ‘skimming’ theft have been arrested and face federal charges.  Two of the three are expected to appear in U.S. District Court in Seattle at 2:30 this afternoon.  One defendant will appear in U.S. District Court in Yakima, Washington.  The three represent two different conspiracies involving the placement of ‘skimming’ equipment on ATMs or access doors, and the use of small cameras to record individuals’ personal identification numbers (PINs).

BENEYAM ASRAT G-SELLASSIE, 22, of Seattle, Washington, was arrested yesterday afternoon on federal charges related to alleged bank ATM skimming across four western states.  G-SELLASSIE is charged with Possession of Counterfeit or Unauthorized Access Devices in connection with his arrest June 5, 2011 in Seattle.  Investigators believe G-SELLASSIE is linked to more than 20 skimming incidents in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada.  G-SELLASSIE is alleged to have been involved in compromising as many as 1,800 accounts.  At least 573 customers have suffered losses from ATM withdrawals or purchases stemming from G-SELLASSIE’s prolific skimming activity.  The total loss figure known at this point exceeds $394,000.  G-SELLASSIE was ultimately arrested at a Chase Bank branch in South Seattle when Chase security personnel alerted Seattle Police that he was attempting withdrawals from an ATM using compromised information from Las Vegas customers.  At the time of his arrest, G-SELLASSIE had in his possession 22 gift cards that had been converted to counterfeit ATM debit cards. 

If convicted, G-SELLASSIE faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

IONUT BUZBUCHI, 55, of Renton, Washington was arrested this morning and will appear in U.S. District Court in Seattle at 2:30 today.   MIHAI ELECKES, 35, of Issaquah, Washington, has been in state custody in Franklin County, Washington, and will appear in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington in Yakima.  Both are charged by criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and possession of device making equipment.  The two men first came to the attention of law enforcement for alleged skimming activity in 2009.  The two appear to have been involved in skimming account information in Washington, Idaho and Arizona.  The ring targeted BECU, Watermark and First Tech Credit Unions, as well as Chase Bank branch ATMs.  The men sometimes installed the skimmer on the access door to the lobby where an ATM is located.  The losses attributed to the conspiracy so far total more than $160,000.

If convicted BUZBUCHI and ELECKES face up to 30 years in prison.

The charges contained in the complaint are only allegations.  A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The cases are being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force.  The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Steven Masada and Norman Barbosa.




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