A California couple are accused of scheming to get credit-card numbers of those paying at pump.
Plymouth police thought they might be drug traffickers. The couple had several cellphones and energy drinks and seemed too anxious for a routine traffic stop. And then there was the fact that they were California residents driving an SUV rented in Colorado with Florida plates.
Instead, a search of the vehicle uncovered tools allegedly used in an elaborate "skimming" scheme designed to steal credit-card numbers of gas station customers who paid at the pump. Now the husband and wife are in jail facing nine felony charges.
Sarkis Mkhsyan, 29, and Gohar Yesayan, 28, of Van Nuys, Calif., are each charged with eight counts of identity theft and a single count of financial transaction card fraud following their July 6 arrest. The complaint says they might be part of a larger operation that creates fake credit cards from stolen numbers.
According to the charges:
Police stopped the SUV for speeding at Hwy. 169 and 26th Avenue in Plymouth last week. Mkhysan, the driver, appeared sweaty and nervous and told officers he had an emergency back in California that he needed to handle.
A search revealed a hidden plastic bag containing multiple brand-new credit cards in the couple's names, a magnetic card-reading device, a computer and software, and in Yesayan's purse a cordless drill and handwritten list of nearly 100 gas stations in the metro area.
Under the seat was a partially burned marijuana joint and a screwdriver with several bits.
A check of the couple's GPS showed that they had recently visited several gas stations. Police went to a Shell station at 9400 36th Av. S., in New Hope, where they found skimming devices in six of the eight fuel pumps.
Eight local residents confirmed that they had used U.S. Bank credit cards at the gas station within the past several days.
Two months ago, Mkhysan was arrested in Glendale, Calif., and charged with identity theft after he was caught with 40 handwritten Social Security numbers and electronic storage devices with additional Social Security numbers and fake credit cards. He posted bail and was freed.
Travel documents seized by California authorities indicated that Mkhysan has traveled between California, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The couple remain in the Hennepin County jail in lieu of $1 million bail. Their next court appearance is July 31.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921