Two accused of stealing credit, debit info from gas pumps

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Two people from Texas were arrested in Vernon Parish last week for allegedly stealing credit and debit card information from local gas pumps to illegally purchase hundreds of dollars worth of diesel fuel.

Yunior Marin Castenada, 32, and Elenis Fernandez Rodriguez, 35, both from Port Arthur, Texas, were each charged with 32 counts of monetary instrument abuse, 30 counts of identity theft, and one count each of criminal conspiracy for what investigators believe was an operation that involved stealing credit and debit card information and then “reloading” that information to blank gift cards.

According to Sheriff Sam Craft, the Vernon Parish Sheriff’s Office was contacted on May 11 by a local bank employee who alerted them that several debit cards connected to the bank had been compromised.

Craft said the employee reported that during the bank’s fraud investigation, it was realized all of the victims had shopped at a local convenience store.

Detectives traveled to the convenience store on numerous occasions to examine the fuel pumps at the site, but Craft said no skimming device was ever located.

On May 24, employees at the convenience store contacted detectives to report a Hispanic man had purchased $656 worth of diesel using six different credit cards during the single transaction.

The employees said they became suspicious when the man remained at the fuel pump for more than 30 minutes.

The next day, May 25, Craft said that employees called detectives when the man returned to the diesel pumps.

Detectives arrived to find the man pumping more than $430 of diesel into a metal tank equipped with a fuel pump in the cargo bed of his pickup truck.

As detectives detained the man and a female passenger, employees of the store collected approximately 30 gift cards from a trash can located next to the diesel pump.

Detectives with VPSO contacted agents with the U.S. Secret Service in regards to the recovered gift cards and according to Craft, it was determined that the cards had been “re-encoded” with account information from local banks.

Chief Detective Rhonda Jordan explained the process by saying that the individuals were able to steal credit and debit card information from the pumps by electronically recording the card and pin information of other customers, and then putting that information on empty gift cards to then make the fraudulent purchases.

“The gift cards were found to have debit or credit card information from at least ten banks. They reload the gift cards with stolen card information and then use the gift cards just like a credit card until the number is flagged by the financial institution,” Jordan stated.

She said detectives believe that the information was obtained by the use of a skimming device, but that the device was never located during the investigation.

Craft said that sadly, the practice is not uncommon and as a result he has begun encouraging customers to avoid paying at the pump, if at all possible.

Both Castenada and Rodriguez were identified as Cuban nationals who had entered the United States through Mexico, Craft said.

Both were in possession of fraudulent International Driver’s Licenses and Social Security Cards at the time of their arrest. They both indicated that upon entry into Arizona, they were provided with a court date to appear for a citizenship hearing and then released.

Detectives also learned during the investigation that Castenada had an outstanding bench warrant out of Texas for his arrest for charges of credit card theft.

Both individuals remain in the Vernon Parish Jail with bail set at $120,000, and a detainer for the Harris County Sheriff’s Department was placed on Castenada in relation to his bench warrant.

VPSO detectives have since notified the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs, but Craft said that as of Tuesday no detainer has been placed on the two by ICE.