A credit card case that was previously in the Columbia County Circuit Court for over a year has now been taken over by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Filed Oct. 16 in federal court’s Western District of Arkansas, recently unsealed documents reveal that Yerandy Valdes-Caraballo, 31, Juan Delgado-Ramos, 56, and Felix Perez-Valladares, 41, have all been indicted for one federal count each of possession of 15 or more counterfeit and unauthorized access devices stemming from their Aug. 28, 2018, arrests in Magnolia. The case alleges that the three non-local men took part in a credit card theft scheme where hundreds of victims’ numbers and PINs were stolen via a ‘skimmer’ device at a local fueling station.
The suspects’ cases were previously set for a state jury trial in Cleveland County — due to the abundance of alleged victims and high profile nature of the case in Columbia County — on Oct. 21. But federal authorities took over the case the week prior to the scheduled proceeding.
The new case was filed in the El Dorado’s federal courthouse. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sydney L. Butler is the listed prosecutor. Caraballo is represented by public defense attorney Alex Wynn, while El Dorado attorneys Gregory M. Thomas and Floyd M. Thomas were appointed to Perez and Valladares, respectively, according to federal court documents. The appointments came due to the defendants’ inability to afford the hire of private counsel. Caraballo and Valladares in state court were previously represented by private Little Rock defense attorneys Leonardo Monterrey and Robert E. Tellez.
All three defendants were released from the Columbia County Detention Center on Oct. 28, according to inmate records. They were each held on $1 million bonds each since Aug. 29, 2018. They are now in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. The federal government, according to court filings, requested pre-trial detention. The defendants are currently housed at the Union County Jail on a $0 bond.
A federal complaint filed Oct. 28 in U.S. District criminal court claims that on the night of the three Cuban-born defendants’ arrests at Magnolia’s Magnusson Hotel, 17 credit cards were found in the tank of the toilet of their room, as well as eight credit cards discovered under a pillow, and 11 credit cards and a card scanner found in the ceiling of the bathroom. Other items included credit cards on the nightstand and the microwave, two cell phones, an Apple watch, and three bundles of cash in a backpack totaling $3,000 and two bundles of cash in a bag totaling $8,860, according to the filing.
A Nissan car, also thought to be driven by the defendants, revealed cash deposits to Wells Fargo Bank, and two bent credit cards and a receipt that had been thrown in a nearby dumpster, the complaint said.
An additional warrant obtained Sept. 6, 2018, was used to search the computer. With the aid of the United States Secret Service, the seized Lenovo laptop was stated to contain credit card data from hundreds of alleged victims, as well as encoder and microchip programming software.
“The forensic examination of the laptop found 287 credit card numbers, of which 255 also contained the victims’ names,” said the complaint.
Each card seized at the Magnusson hotel room in December 2018 was later scanned by the Arkansas State Police.
“A total of 38 MasterCard gift cards and one People’s Bank debit card was scanned and found to contain information correlating to 39 individual victims’ and account numbers,” the document said.
The affiant who authored the complaint, a federal agent with 23 years of law enforcement experience and currently employed with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, concluded that the evidence and investigation showed a violation of U.S. code for possession of fifteen or more counterfeit and unauthorized access devices.
According to federal code, each defendant could face up to 10 years in prison each if they are convicted of the charge.