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Accused Cuban credit card 'skimmers' had keys to gas pumps

Jeff Bobo • Updated Aug 16, 2017 at 8:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Police are asking gas station owners to take any necessary steps to prevent thieves from tampering with the card readers on their pumps.

Two Cuban men were arrested last week in Rogersville after allegedly running up a $30,000 tab using duplicate credit and debit cards. They were found in possession of keys needed to open gas pump control panels.

Rogersville Police Department Assistant Chief Travis Fields said that’s how Odemnis Prats Leive, 30, and Amaurys Mendez, 39, allegedly implanted a device inside two gas pumps in Kingsport that transmitted to them the debit/credit card information from every person who paid for gas at those pumps sometime before Aug. 9.

Both affected pumps were at the Zoomers on John B. Dennis Highway near the I-26 exit around Aug. 8.

As of Tuesday, 60 victims had been identified through their financial institutions, and more are expected.

Leive and Mendez were arrested Thursday evening while attempting to leave the Rogersville Walmart parking lot during their illegal shopping spree.

At the time of their arrest, the theft tally was projected at approximately $20,000, including $16,000 in cash and the rest in Walmart gift cards and merchandise that was found in their possession.

As of Tuesday, however, police had discovered that they also allegedly used stolen credit card information to purchase several money orders, which increased the theft tally to more than $30,000.

The keys that Leive and Mendez used work only on pumps that are more than two years old, Fields told the Times-News Tuesday.

Fields encouraged all business owners who could be susceptible to this type of crime to take whatever steps necessary secure their credit/debit card readers.

“Businesses need to understand that there’s measures they can take to secure the control panels on their gas pumps,” Fields said.  “In just one day, these thieves can get hundreds of card numbers.”

When the suspects open the control panel on a pump, they’re able to undo wires connected to the card reader and  install their device fairly quickly, Fields noted. The customers’ credit or debit card transaction still goes to the store, and the pump still prints the receipt, but the implanted device records their numbers.

Fields added, “It’s a Blue Tooth device, which is just a router. When it records that number, then all they have to do is get within about 30 feet of that device. They’ll come back the next day, and all of those credit card numbers will download onto their laptop. If you’ve used you PIN number, it will record that PIN number. Basically they’ll have everything they need to duplicate your card.”

Fields said the affected Zoomers has taken steps to secure its pumps.

Leive and Mendez are both alleged to be illegal aliens from Cuba. Both reportedly claimed they don’t speak English, and both have Miami, Fla., addresses.

They’re believed to be part of a larger syndicate of Cubans who are performing this same scam across the Southeast. Locally police have reports that it has taken place in Kingsport, both Bristols, Johnson City and Greeneville.

Leive and Mendez were scheduled for arraignment in Hawkins County Sessions Court Monday, but that was rescheduled for Wednesday. They are both being held in the Hawkins County Jail without bond.

Secret Service agents are expected to be in Rogersville Tuesday, and officials say Leive and Mendez are likely to face federal charges as well.                                                                                               

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