Five men from Las Vegas were arrested in Eagan and charged with identity theft after police said they used counterfeit credit cards with stolen numbers to purchase $21,000 worth of gift cards at nearby businesses.
The men came to Minnesota after receiving an e-mail offering them a job, Alberto Perez-Martin, one of the defendants, told police. He said when they arrived they were told to go to a motel and wait. A couple of days later, a man showed up with about 200 credit cards that had the names of the five men on them and different stolen account numbers, Perez-Martin told officers.
They were told to go buy gift cards and that they would share the profit with an “employer,” according to the criminal complaint filed Wednesday in Dakota County District Court.
The asset protection manager of the Eagan Sam’s Club called police Monday after the men bought numerous gift cards there. They were buying gift cards at one register and then moving to another checkout line to buy more, according to the complaint. When a card was declined, they would use another. The Sam’s Club employee told police that the group had spent $7,000 on gift cards at the company’s Apple Valley store one hour before.
Police followed the men out of the Sam’s Club parking lot and pulled them over. One of them, July Antonio Alvia, 34, was sitting on a bag of credit cards, according to the complaint.
They also arrested Perez-Martin, 35, and Osvaldo Pilas-Rojas, 45; Arregui Heredi Gutierrez, 39; and Giraldo Sallas-Alilas, 34. Prosecutors charged each of the men with one felony count of identity theft, and they had their first court appearance Thursday. Their next court appearance will be Jan. 20, except for Perez-Martin, who is scheduled for Feb. 18.
Such identity theft cases are not uncommon. Cities across the metro area have reported increases of 50 percent or more in the past year. This year, the state approved funding to add five positions to the Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force, which pieces together cases across jurisdictions.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said his office has charged at least nine other people who had cloned credit cards this year.
“This appears to be another example of organized crime activities involving cloned credit cards containing legitimate credit card numbers stolen from hundreds of victims,” Backstrom said in a news release.