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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Missouri

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, January 9, 2015

Three Individuals Sentenced On Identity Theft And Credit Card Fraud Charges

St. Louis, MO – These individuals recruited young United States citizens with promises of large financial gain with relatively limited risk if they agreed to travel throughout the United States and pass credit cards embedded with the numbers obtained from the various databases.

According to court documents, in May 2014, individuals residing in Mexico and Arizona initiated a scheme to fraudulently obtain access to the databases of credit card processing systems.  These individuals recruited young United States citizens with promises of large financial gain with relatively limited risk if they agreed to travel throughout the United States and pass credit cards embedded with the numbers obtained from the various databases.  Upon obtaining the consent of their recruits, the individuals produced credit cards bearing the names of financial institutions operating in Mexico and embossed with the names of the recruits.  The counterfeit credit cards were hidden in items such as magazines and sent through interstate carriers such as Federal Express to the carriers shipping offices.  A more experienced individual traveled with the recruits in order to instruct them as to the type of purchases to make and how to handle the logistics of the scheme, such as obtaining transportation and lodging.  When the recruits and their supervisor arrived at the designated location, they retrieved the packages from the shipping location, and proceeded to use the counterfeit cards to purchase assorted merchandise. 

In the fall of 2013, unknown individuals breached the database of Heartland Payment Systems, a credit card processing system that services business, such as a restaurant in Ellisville, Missouri.  Unfortunately, the restaurant did not receive notice of the breach until June 2014.  In the intervening time, near May 20, 2014, in Tucson, Arizona, an unidentified individual approached Israel Olivas Jr. with the offer of participating in the scheme.  Olivas agreed to participate and Olivas recruited Carlos Alonso Serna, Jr. to join the endeavor.  Upon obtaining the consent of Olivas and Serna, the unidentified individual introduced Olivas to Luis Ruben Sanchez-Castro, a citizen of Mexico who entered the United States in Nogales, Arizona, with proper documentation.  Sanchez-Castro had participated in the conspiracy on four to five occasions prior to meeting Olivas.

Olivas, Serna and Sanchez-Castro flew from Arizona to Kansas City, Missouri, in May 2014.  Sanchez-Castro rented a vehicle using a counterfeit credit card. He and Olivas drove to a FedEx store in the Western District of Missouri to accept delivery of the package containing the counterfeit credit cards that had been sent from Arizona.  Between May 22, 2014, and May 26, 2014, Olivas, Serna and Sanchez-Castro traveled from the Western District of Missouri, to the Eastern District of Missouri and continued to the Southern District of Illinois, using counterfeit credit cards embedded with the account numbers of individuals they believed to be residents of the St. Louis Metropolitan area.  Of the 155 cards transported into the Eastern District of Missouri, the account numbers of approximately 105 residents of the St. Louis Metropolitan area were embedded on the cards bearing the names of the defendants.  As a result of the number of cards, the loss exceeded $70,000

Olivas, Serna, Jr. and Sanchez-Castro appeared today for sentencing before United States District Judge Carol E. Jackson.  Sanchez-Castro, who was also charged with aggravated identity theft, was sentenced to 45 months incarceration. Olivas was sentenced to 24 months incarceration and Serna, Jr. received a sentence of 30 months incarceration.  Each of the defendants was also ordered to pay restitution to the identified victims of the scheme. 

Two additional people, Yesenia Melissa Celaya-Rivera and Yennica Guadalupe Soto-Campa, citizens of Mexico, were charged this week in a separate indictment based upon their participation in the scheme between December 12 and December 15, 2014.

As is always the case, charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations and do not constitute proof of guilt.  Every defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty. 

These cases were investigated by the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Illinois State Police and the City of Chesterfield, Missouri Police Department.  Assistant United States Attorney Tracy Berry handled the cases for the U.S. Attorney's Office. 
Updated March 19, 2015