NEW JERSEY – A California man who had fled to Mexico has been arrested for his role in a conspiracy to steal credit and debit cards from customers at approximately 80 Michaels’ Stores in 19 states including New Jersey 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, 44, 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 last week via Philadelphia International Airport to face an indictment charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. Salazar made his initial appearance and arraignment Thursday by videoconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen M. Williams. He pleaded not guilty and was remanded without bail, 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, Crystal Banuelos, 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. Banuelos pleaded guilty on Nov. 17, 2015, and was sentenced to time served and five years of probation. Angulo pleaded guilty on June 20, 2017 and was sentenced 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. The charge of aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory penalty of two years in prison, to be served consecutively to any other sentence.