From the daily archives: Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The California Attorney General’s Office today filed criminal charges against three men who stole more than $100,000 from about 200 people by creating fake credit and debit cards from banking information they skimmed from ATM and credit cards through devices placed inside gas station pumps in Northern California.

“These thieves broke into gas station pumps and installed devices that collected customers’ debit and credit card numbers and ATM PINs,” Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said, “and later they used that stolen information to create fraudulent cards, make purchases and withdraw thousands of dollars from victims’ accounts.”

David Karapetyan, 32, Zhirayr Zamanyan, 30, and Edwin Hamazaspyan, 31, all of Los Angeles, were scheduled to appear today in Contra Costa County Superior Court to face charges. The complaint against them includes 42 counts of felony identity theft and one count of conspiracy.

If convicted on all charges, the three could each face up to 31 years in prison.

In March, the Attorney General’s office took over prosecution of the case from the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office because the crimes occurred in multiple jurisdictions throughout Northern California. An amended complaint was filed today.

In their high-tech crime spree, the three traveled to gas stations and banks across the Bay Area in a rented Cadillac Escalade. From November 2009 to February 2010, they are believed to have stolen $158,800 from 196 people.

They acquired keys to unlock various kinds of gas station pumps. Once they opened the pumps, they were able to connect two cables inside to their two-inch electronic device, which looked like a circuit board encased in electrical tape, and recorded ATM and credit card data as well as victims’ PINs. No tampering was visible on the outside of the pumps. The trio would later return to retrieve the skimmers, which took less than 20 seconds.

The investigation began in February when police in Solano and Contra Costa counties reported an increase in identity theft and a 7-11 Store employee in Martinez noticed a skimming device inside a gas pump. Police removed the device, replaced it with a mock device and conducted 24-hour surveillance. Karapetyan and Zamanyan were arrested when they arrived to remove the device. In total, seven devices were found inside gas pumps in Martinez, Benicia, Livermore, Hayward, Oakland, San Mateo and Sacramento.

Banks have reimbursed the victims.

The Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force, a partnership of 17 local, state and federal agencies, led the investigation with assistance from the U.S. Secret Service, Martinez Police Department and the Glendale Police Department.

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By Jim Predmore

Thousands of friends and family gathered Wednesday morning to celebrate the life of Amber Bryant.  38-year-old Amber lost her life last week when she was gunned down on the corner of Cruickshank and La Brucherie in El Centro by her fiancé, Nathan Veliquette, who then took his own life.

This celebration of Amber’s life was held at the Imperial Valley Expo’s Casa de Manana building and was officiated by Pastor Walter Colace.  Pastor Colace gave the welcome and Pastor Colace explained that having to perform the service was the hardest service that he had ever given and he felt that it was probably the hardest service to attend because of the circumstances of her passing. He asked the crowd to read with him Psalm 23 and then gave the opening Prayer followed by Pastor Steve Messiek  who  gave a Ministry in song.

Giving the Eulogy, Pastor Colace spoke of the uniqueness of Amber and how her first words were not “Mommy” or “Daddy” but “Meow” and how she had  purchased a beach cruiser and had pink and brown fur polka dots put on it; how Amber loved to laugh and how Preston, her son, was the love of her life.

Friends and coworkers then talked of their fondness of Amber , what a great teacher she was, what a great friend she was, and what a great person she was.

Amber was a resident of Imperial and was a school teacher at Sun Flower Elementary School in El Centro.  Friends fondly remember her for her flair for style and her exuberance for life.  Her co-workers recall her passion for teaching and devotion to her students.  All who knew her will never forget her beautiful smile.  There is no doubt that Amber loved life, adored her students, and treasured her family and friends.  But the focus of her life was her beloved 10-year-old son Preston, whom she was absolutely devoted to.

Although this tragedy has shocked this County there has been a new awareness instilled in us about the entire problem of domestic violence. We now have the birth of the Amber Bryant Coalition to Prevent Domestic Violence or (ABC).  Their Vision is the safety and security of the Imperial Valley community through the ongoing education of our youth, community members, and businesses. Together we visualize the deterrence of domestic violence, diseases, and injustices to our fellow Imperial Valley Citizens. We must unite for the betterment of our future. Their Mission- The ABC Group is a collaboration of caring people, friends and fellow Spartan Alumni that came together because of the tragic death of their amazing friend AMBER Bryant. It is the groups’ vision to raise awareness about several causes that were pertinent to Amber’s life: Her son, her family, her school and her community.

Unfortunately, Preston was in the vehicle at the time of this terrible act of violence, and has become the latest child to be devastated by domestic violence.  Domestic violence is rampant in our society.  It is not uncommon for victims to suffer in this situation for years without knowing how to seek help.  Of all domestic violence cases, over 85% are women.  According to statistics, one in every four women will have their lives affected by domestic violence in their lifetime.  This accumulates to over 1.3 million cases each year.  In 30-60% of these cases, children in the household are also abused.  Most cases of abuse are never reported to the police.  Along with the police, there are several other local agencies where a domestic violence victim can seek assistance:  the Victims of Crimes Program (800-777-9229), Victims-Witness Assistance (760-336-3930), Crime Stoppers (760-339-6333), Adult Protective Services (760-337-7878), Child Protective Services (760-337-7750), Turning Point Ministries (760-356-4307), and the Women Haven Center Against Domestic Violence (760-353-6922).

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