A proactive police investigative contact at a closed gas station led to the arrest of three individuals for attempted theft and burglary related charges and ultimately to the discovery of a large-scale identity theft lab.
Over the past several months, the city of Moorpark, like much of Ventura County and Southern California, has experienced identity theft related crimes. These crimes are largely driven by the theft of credit and debit card information through the use of hidden “skimmers” surreptitiously installed in gas station filling pumps. A growing trend related to the use of skimmers is the purchasing or large-scale “theft” of gas with the use of the stolen credit card information. Thieves will utilize pick-up trucks or vans that have been specially fitted with large, utility gas tanks, hidden in the bed of the truck or the back of the van. These types of vehicles are frequently referred to as “bladder trucks” in reference to the extra gas tank. Thieves will then purchase several hundred gallons of gas at a time, using the stolen credit card information and then sell the gas on the black market for a profit.
On the early morning hours of June 19th, 2021, a Moorpark patrol deputy saw two pickup trucks parked in front of the filling pumps at a closed gas station in the area of Spring Road and Princeton Ave. The two trucks immediately drove off in separate directions upon seeing the patrol car. Suspecting illegal activity was occurring or about to occur, the deputy radioed other patrol deputies and coordinated enforcement stops on both vehicles. During their contacts, deputies noticed that both pickup trucks were equipped with large “bladder tanks” in the bed of each truck. The bladders were partially hidden by tires, hoses, and debris. Deputies also observed several tools in the cabs of both trucks that were capable of prying open or defeating the locks on gas pumps. Based on their investigation, deputies arrested three individuals, identified as Erly Tellez and Aroldo Castro of Houston, Texas and Sandy Jimenez of Live Oak, Florida, for attempted theft and burglary related charges. The bladder trucks were towed and impounded as evidence.
The case was then followed up on by the Moorpark Detective Bureau. Over the next several days, Moorpark detectives conducted an investigation and learned that the suspects had been staying at a motel in the city of Pomona. Detectives also learned that the suspects had likely been operating an identity theft “laboratory” out of their motel room.
On the afternoon of June 21st, 2021, Moorpark detectives drove to the city of Pomona and served a search warrant at the motel room. During the service of the warrant, detectives seized an entire identity theft lab, including laptop computers, software capable of re-encoding credit cards, skimming devices, re-encoding devices, blank credit cards, and over 120 fraudulent re-encoded credit cards with stolen credit card information from unknowing victims.
Tellez, Castro, and Jimenez were booked at the Ventura County Main Jail. All three were charged with conspiracy to commit grand theft and identity theft as well as burglary related charges. Castro had an outstanding arrest warrant out of Texas for similar activity. Bail for all three suspects was set at $50,000.00 and their court dates are pending.
The Moorpark Police Department has worked diligently with all local gas station owners to help them secure their businesses from this type of activity. Several recent attempts of skimming credit card information or stealing gas have been prevented at Moorpark gas stations due to this partnership.