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California man guilty in credit card skimming scheme with apparent Harford ties

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A Vietnamese national living in California was sentenced recently to six years in federal prison for mail fraud in connection with his role in a credit card skimming scheme that prosecutors say involved an unidentified employee of a Maryland business.

Though specific information about the Maryland connection in the case has not been forthcoming from federal prosecutors, the Maryland phase of the investigation was centered in Harford County, a spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office acknowledged.

In sentencing Nghia Nguyen, 35, of Santa Ana, Calif., in Baltimore Federal District Court Dec. 17, Judge James K. Bredar also ordered Nguyen to pay $1,300 in restitution and to forfeit $15,000, the latter to be satisfied by selling a Rolex watch he was wearing at the time of his arrest, according to Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, who announced the sentence. Nguyen will also be subject to three years of supervised release when he leaves prison.

Nguyen, who faced up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for mail fraud conviction, also agreed to forfeit all computer equipment, peripheral devices and other equipment used in the production of fraudulent credit cars, according to his plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office signed Aug. 24.

The statement of stipulated facts accompanying the plea agreement indicates that Nguyen was caught through a sting set up by U.S. Secret Service agents after they suspected him in the fraud scheme.

According to the plea agreement, beginning in 2010 or 2011, through April 11, 2012, Nguyen used stolen credit card account data, obtained by a co-conspirator in Maryland using a skimming device, to re-encode this data onto different cards, then used those cards to make purchases. Nguyen had mailed the electronic skimming device to the Maryland co-conspirator, who in turn "used the device at the business where he was employed," according to the plea agreement.

The co-conspirator is referred to only as "CS" in the stipulated facts.

"In furtherance of the scheme, Nguyen sent an individual, identified herein as 'CS' a Mini600 electronic magnetic card reader [credit card skimming device] via United States Postal Service parcel and directed CS how to use the magnetic card reader," according to the statement of stipulated facts.

"CS used his employment in retail and access to credit cards to obtain data from the cards. When CS accumulated the data of 10 to 15 credit cards stored on the magnetic card reader, he mailed the entire magnetic card readers, together with several credit cards bearing his name, to Nguyen…Nguyen would then extract data from the magnetic card reader and re-encoded the magnetic strip of other cards with a victim's data to give the appearance that the re-encoded cards were legitimate. From 2010 or 2011 through February 2011, Nguyen repeated the process several times."

In the statement of stipulated facts, Nguyen admitted that as a result of the scheme, more than 50 victims incurred losses totaling over $70,000.

Marcia Murphy, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said last week the name of the co-conspirator is not identified in the public record of the case, nor is the co-conspirator's residence or the business he or she worked for. "As far as I know, there is nothing in the public record that identifies the co-conspirator," she wrote in an e-mail.

The Harford County Sheriff's Office was involved in the investigation that led to Nguyen's arrest and conviction, Eddie Hopkins, the agency's spokesperson, said. In addition, the U.S. Attorney's Office's announcement of the conviction acknowledged the participation of both Harford Sheriff Jesse Bane and Harford State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly.

Hopkins said last week that any specific information about the case would have to come from the U.S. Attorney's Office. "We are not the lead agency, but we were involved," he wrote in an e-mail.

Cassilly likewise said Thursday he could not comment about the case. "I do not have any details really except what the U.S. Attorney put out," the Harford prosecutor wrote in an e-mail.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, on April 18, 2011, agents from the U.S. Secret Service used the skimmer to upload the data of seven credit cards fabricated by the USPS, then mailed the skimmer and credit cards bearing the co-conspirator's name to Nguyen.

Between April 22, 2011 and May 5, 2011, Nguyen attempted to use the data uploaded to the skimmer from the seven fabricated credit cards on 15 occasions at stores and gas stations in California and Arizona. The stipulated facts lists the places, dates and purchases, some of which went through but others which were denied.

On April 4, 2012, another package was delivered to Nguyen containing the skimmer, which had again been loaded with fabricated credit card information by the Secret Service.

On April 11, 2012, Nguyen was arrested at Dulles Airport in Virginia, and law enforcement recovered six credit cards from Nguyen, four of which had been re-encoded, a credit card skimming device that contained the information of the fabricated credit cards created by the Secret Service, a Rolex watch estimated to be worth more than $30,000, and cash, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

A subsequent search of Nguyen's home in California recovered a stolen .380/9mm semi-automatic handgun, two empty magazines and 100 rounds of .380 ammunition; two boxes of financial and identification documents, including 107 cards with a magnetic strip; and documents listing, in spreadsheet format, 266 names with Social Security numbers, dates of birth, credit card numbers, passwords and other identifying information, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Nguyen's was the second credit card skimming with Harford County ties to come to light in the past 18 months.

This past March, a two Bulgarian nationals living in Howard County pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges in connection with an international ring that placed skimmers and mini-cams on bank and other ATMs in Maryland and elsewhere. In that case, the two men admitted attaching a skimmer to a bank ATM in Bel Air in January 2011 and then using the credit card information they captured to steal more than $13,000 from the unsuspecting customers accounts.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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