A California couple is charged with nine counts of identity theft and illegal financial card transactions in connection with a sophisticated scheme involving credit card readers at Twin Cities gasoline pumps.
Sarkis Mkhsyan, 29, and Gohar Yesayan, 28, of Van Nuys, Ca. were charged by the Hennepin County Attorney's Office on Tuesday.
The criminal complaint states Mkhsyan and Yesayan had around 100 gas stations on in the metro on a list and a computer file on how to repair a gasoline pump. Police visited one of the stations on the list, a Shell station at 9400 36th Ave. S in New Hope, to find six of the eight pumps had credit card skimming devices had been installed, which allowed them to obtain the credit card information of anyone who paid at the pump.
"People have come to rely on these credit card machines at gas stations and elsewhere," Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said. "The fact that this couple has found a way to betray that trust is deplorable. This economic crime touches all of us and we intend to vigorously prosecute them here."
Investigators found that Mkhsyan was free on bail from Glendale, Ca. for a similar crime. When the couple made their first appearance Wednesday, prosecutors asked for and were granted $1 million bail.
The couple's scheme was found shortly after midnight July 6 when they were caught speeding on Highway 169 and 26th Avenue in Plymouth. Many suspicions arose during the stop. Mkhsyan, who was driving, had a California ID but no driver's license on him, and showed a speeding ticket in Iowa with his driver's license. The vehicle was rented in Denver and had Florida plates.
The Plymouth officer suspected drug smuggling and called for a K-9 unit. The dog indicated there were drugs in the SUV. Police searched and found the list of gas stations, a magnetic card reader, a number of new credit cards in the name of Mkhsyan and Yesayan, a cordless drill and a computer. Also found were numerous blank credit cards.
The couple also had the credit card information for eight residents who had used their cards at that Shell station. In addition, four of the credit cards in Mkhsyan name had the numbers that tracked to other people, according to the complaint.