NEW JERSEY – A California man Thursday admitted his role in a large-scale conspiracy to steal 94,000 credit and debit cards from customers at approximately 80 Michaels’ Stores in 19 states and to then use that information to make fraudulent withdrawals from the bank accounts of those customers, according to acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig.
Jose Salazar, aka “Tito,” 44, of Riverside was indicted in 2015 and has been a fugitive. He was apprehended in Mexico City in September 2020 and returned in January 2021 via Philadelphia International Airport, where he was arrested. Salazar pleaded guilty Thursday by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez to Count 1 of an indictment charging him with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, Honig said.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, the conspirators installed devices that acquired customers’ bank account and personal identification number (PIN) information on point of sale (POS) terminals at stores operated by Michaels. The stolen account information was used to produce counterfeit bank cards, which were used with the stolen PINs to withdraw funds from the compromised bank accounts.
The conspirators allegedly replaced POS terminals in 80 different stores operated by Michaels across 19 states, including New Jersey, with counterfeit POS devices. Each counterfeit device was equipped with wireless technology, which the conspirators used to retrieve the stolen information. From February 2011 to April 2011, conspirators stole approximately 94,000 debit and credit card account numbers.
In 2011, Salazar recruited individuals to participate in the conspiracy. From April 2011 to May 2011, Salazar, Angel Angulo and others obtained counterfeit cards with the corresponding PIN numbers written on them from other conspirators. They used the cards and PIN numbers to withdraw money using automated teller machines (ATMs) from hundreds of bank accounts. Angulo pleaded guilty on June 20, 2017, and was sentenced on March 15, 2018, to three years in prison.
The charge of conspiracy to commit bank fraud carries a maximum potential penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 10, 2021, Honig said.