A Texas man admitted his role Wednesday in a gas pump skimming case that took more than $40,000 from nearly 300 people.
Leandro “Leo” Sanchez, 32, pleaded guilty in Roanoke’s federal court to conspiracy to commit bank fraud. He was allowed to remain free on bond pending sentencing.
Sanchez was one of about a half-dozen people involved in a scheme that operated out of Miami, authorities said.
Skimming devices were placed in gas station pumps in Clearbrook and Collinsville to capture account information from debit cards that were inserted into the machines by customers.
Once the data was accessed from the cards, it was re-encoded onto new cards that were used to withdraw cash from ATMs and make purchases from stores that included the Walmart in Clearbrook, Assistant U.S. Attorney Coleman Adams wrote in court documents.
Roanoke County police learned of the case in September 2017, when a bank customer reported that his debit card had been used without his permission at a Walmart ATM.
Reviewing footage from surveillance cameras, police identified three individuals at the ATM and later at a self-checkout register, where purchases of about $1,000 of merchandise were made with multiple cards.
Police later determined that the fraudulent cards were also being used at the ATMs of Blue Eagle Credit Union on Electric Road.
On Nov. 2, police went to the credit union and found a man and a woman in a car with a large amount of cash, plastic cards and bank receipts. The man told police that he learned how to use the skimmers from Sanchez, his sister’s boyfriend.
Defense attorney David Damico contested any assertion that Sanchez was the leader of what he described as a loosely organized conspiracy. “He is not the mastermind of this,” Damico said.
A laptop computer recovered from the suspects indicated that 291 debit or credit cards were compromised, according to Brian McGinn, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office.
Although an exact amount will not be determined until Sanchez is sentenced, both sides agreed that more than $40,000 was taken. Most of the transactions involved relatively small amounts.
The case is not related to an ATM skimming operation that hit the Roanoke Valley at about the same time.
More than $250,000 was taken in that scheme, which authorities said was organized in Romania and involved participants traveling to the United States “solely to conduct ATM skimming activities.”