SANDY, Utah, Feb. 27, 2018 (Gephardt Daily) — Four men are in custody and at least one other is on the run after Salt Lake City-based FBI agents — in conjunction with the Secret Service and local law enforcement officers — busted suspected members of a high-tech ATM theft ring late Sunday night.
Gephardt Daily cameras were the only ones there when agents swooped down on the unsuspecting thieves as they attempted to steal cash from an ATM at the Deseret First Credit Union, near 9400 S. 1300 East, about 10:30 p.m.
According to a criminal complaint filed Monday in federal court, a total of five suspects, all of them from Caracas, Venezuela, were charged with computer fraud and bank robbery in connection with a high-tech scheme known as “jackpotting.”
Investigators say jackpotting requires perpetrators to physically break into the ATMs then install malware that lets them empty the cash machines without triggering accounting or security measures.
Authorities were onto the scheme as early as Feb. 20, according to the criminal complaint, when airline tickets to Salt Lake City were purchased from the same IP address and email account. On Feb. 25, the men flew from Miami into Salt Lake City International, where investigators realized the suspects were traveling in multiple rental vehicles.
Over the next three days, officers tracked the suspects, observing the men as they “engaged in multiple maneuvers that appeared calculated to counter surveillance, such as exiting a highway, conducting u-turns and resuming the original route,” charging documents said.
On Sunday, undercover agents spotted the cars and suspects gathering in Liberty Park. After the meeting, “several vehicles then drove to multiple sites where ATMs are located, particularly in the Old Mill area near a Zion’s Bank ATM and a Mountain America Credit Union ATM.”
The men then returned to Liberty Park where they met yet again before exchanging “equipment or materials from one car to another.”
The suspects then left the park and returned to the Old Mill area.
Upon arrival, one of the suspects’ vehicles “veered directly up to the Zion’s Bank ATM, while the other vehicles pulled off to wait in the vicinity. An individual exited the vehicle” and was “observed approaching the Zion’s Bank ATM.”
Investigators say the suspects were in the process of breaching the Zions Bank ATM when they were surprised by a bank customer who pulled into the parking lot. The suspect vehicles drove off and headed in the direction of 9400 South.
At about 10:30 p.m., the same vehicle seen at Zions Bank was spotted at the Deseret First Credit Union, at 9325 Village Shop Drive in Sandy.
Court documents say that as agents approached car, “they found the ATM was displaying a screen that indicated the software system of the ATM had been breached. Agents approached the suspect vehicle and found the ATM dispensing cash, and arrested the individual in the car, and found electronic equipment and a bag full of cash.”
Four suspects were taken into custody. They’ve been identified as Pedro Rivero Velazquez, 38, Joao Silva Robertson, 28, Josshua Perez Rivas, 38, Starlin Garcia Caraballo, 39.
Another suspect, Luis Mendez Mata, 42, was also charged in federal court but remains at large.
The disposition of a sixth person mentioned in the court documents was not disclosed.