Police: 'Skimming' gang bilked restaurant patrons

LAWRENCEVILLE — A months-long investigation by Gwinnett police has led to the arrests of six people who stole credit card information from patrons at a fast-food eatery to later bilk their bank accounts, police said Wednesday.

Obed Cortes-Luviano, a cashier at a Pleasant Hill Road restaurant in Lawrenceville, fraudulently obtained credit card information from customers by use of a "skimming" device, and later distributed that data to a thieving group of friends, police said.

Police declined to identify the restaurant where the alleged fraud took place.

Cortes-Luviano, of Lawrenceville, reportedly used the walnut-size device to skim data from patrons purchasing food. The data was later downloaded to a computer and re-encoded to "blank" cards, which the suspects used to make purchases at area retailers, said Gwinnett police spokesman Officer Brian Kelly.

"Many of these criminals will use retail gift cards for their magnetic strips, plus they are much easier to obtain than blank credit cards," Kelly said.

The case involves multiple victims in Gwinnett. It initially came to investigators' attention in October, when a woman reported her bank statement showed a fraudulent purchase of $370 at a Target in Roswell, while her credit card was still in her possession, Kelly said.

Police used surveillance video of the transaction to arrest two additional suspects — Kaitlyn Brenneman and Julio Molina-Sanchez, both of Norcross — on Thursday. Cortes-Luviano was arrested Jan. 22 at his place of employment, a handheld skimmer in his possession, Kelly said.

The three suspects led investigators to the Norcross home of Edgar Perez on Friday, where they found four gift cards re-encoded with illegitimate credit account information, Kelly said.

Each suspect faces multiple counts of financial identity fraud.

At a probable cause hearing for Perez on Wednesday, Gwinnett police Cpl. M.E. Miller said computers found in Perez's Norcross home are undergoing forensic testing for additional clues. The four cards found in his home contained information from SunTrust and Wachovia banks, with fraudulent purchases between $200 and $329, Miller said.

A judge bound all charges against Perez to Superior Court for indictment.

Like Cortes-Luviano, Perez is being held for federal immigration authorities. The others remain at the Gwinnett County Jail without bond.

Miller said six total arrests have been made in the case, including one juvenile.