CLEVELAND, Ohio — A former Orlando-area mobile phone store owner is accused of running multi-state credit card scam that the FBI began investigating after an employee of a Mentor gas station found a skimming device at one of their pumps.
Silvio Leon — who served prison time for a similar scheme in Florida — is charged with conspiring to commit access device fraud. He is jailed awaiting his detention hearing on Thursday in U.S. District Court.
North Olmsted police arrested Leon and the another man after FBI agents tracked their phones from New Jersey through Pennsylvania and back to Ohio, where they had rented a room at the Aloft hotel in North Olmsted, near Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
The other man has not yet been charged.
The investigation began Feb. 27 after an employee of the BP gas station on Heisley Road in Mentor found the skimming device, according to court records.
Mentor police took the device and found it stored about 1,000 people’s credit card information and names, according to court records. Several people reported charges they didn’t make on their bank cards and Mentor police noticed all of them bought gas at the same gas station, according to court filings.
All of the fake charges were made at Sam’s Clubs stores in Mentor, Oakwood and Sheffield Village.
FBI agents found that the person who used that particular Sam’s Club Membership card, later identified as Leon, had made more than $120,000 in purchases at the Mentor store alone, according to court records. Investigators also found the same membership card bought items with stolen credit card information elsewhere in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Minnesota.
FBI agents looked at surveillance footage from the most recent use of the membership card, compared it to photos in police databases and found a match with Leon, according to court records.
A Florida-based parole confirmed Leon’s identity, the records say.
The FBI tracked Leon’s movements after obtaining his cellphone number from a rental car company at the Pittsburgh International Airport. They traced his movements through New Jersey to North Olmsted and found they were stopping at or near several Walmarts or Sam’s Clubs on their four-day trip to Ohio, according to court records.
In one case, a North Fayette police officer reported to the FBI the men stopped at a Walmart in that town and bought $400 worth of items with someone’s stolen credit card information, court records say.
When North Olmsted police and FBI agents arrested the duo, they found seven $100 gift cards and three USB data storage devices labeled “Cleveland,” “Philli (sic)” and “Pittsburg (sic),” the filings say.
An FBI agent wrote in an affidavit that the information stolen from skimming devices are often stored on USB devices. That data is then used to make fake credit cards that are often used within close proximity to where the information is stolen in order to avoid detection from banks.
Gift cards are also typically purchased during skimming schemes because they are an easy way to launder the money they steal. The items they buy are then resold, the affidavit said.
Agents then went to the Aloft hotel where the men stayed and found the room filled with recently bought items from Walmarts, Sam’s Clubs and TJ Maxx.
Leon served three years in federal prison for a similar scheme in the Orlando area and his federal probation ended in April, according to court records.
In the previous case, Leon admitted to stealing some $327,000 in the credit-card skimming scheme in 2011. He made fake credit cards with stolen information that he made with an embosser and an encoding machine that he bought from China and had shipped to his home.
He then bought different items at Target, Best Buy and other stores and re-sold the merchandise at the cellphone store that owned at the time of his arrest in 2011.
Leon, according to the Orlando Sentinel, apologized to the victims at his sentencing hearing and promised he was a changed man.
“When I get out of this, I am going to show society and my family that I am a hard-working individual and this will not happen again,” he said, according to the newspaper.
To comment on this story, please visit Friday’s crime and courts comments page.