FORT WORTH -- A California man accused of participating in a theft ring that stole consumers' account information using illegal "skimmers" at gas stations stretching from the West Coast to North Texas fell prey to "greed" after trying to squeeze a few more dollars out of his victims, a Tarrant County prosecutor told a jury Tuesday.
Aleksandr Goukasian, 52, of Los Angeles and his accomplices were about to move their operation to the Houston area when authorities in North Texas moved in, Assistant District Attorney Lori Burks said in her opening statement.
"That greed is what got him caught," Burks said.
Goukasian is on trial on charges that he engaged in organized crime, and credit and debit card abuse that generated thousands of dollars in cash and goods from dozens of victims over a few months in 2010.
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Burks, who is prosecuting the case with Jon O'Toole, said the theft ring used a device about the size of four decks of cards to skim credit- and debit-card information and PINs from consumers at gasoline stations. The skimmers were placed inside gasoline pumps and connected to the part that accepts credit cards and the keypad where consumers typed their passwords.
"Someone out there would never know that they were stealing their debit-card information," Burks said.
Thirteen skimmers were recovered in North Texas, and others were recovered in Houston, Mojave, Calif., and Las Vegas, she said. They all bore the same design and the same unique markings.
The first witnesses to take the stand were law enforcement authorities from California and Las Vegas, who showed illegal skimmers found by pump maintenance workers.
"It was unique," Las Vegas police Detective Jeremiah Ballejos testified, after unveiling the skimmers seized at a Circle K store there. "It was not something that I'd encountered before."
Defense attorney Abe Factor declined to make an opening statement but sharply questioned the first witnesses about whether they could link Goukasian to the devices. They said they could not.
Testimony is expected to resume today before state District Judge Wayne Salvant in Criminal District Court No. 2.
Goukasian was also charged in federal court in the Eastern District of Texas and reached a plea bargain that has been sealed.
According to court records, Goukasian pleaded guilty in August to one count of unauthorized use of a device to access account and credit card information. The federal indictment had accused him of using five credit cards to obtain nearly $10,000.
Goukasian has not been sentenced in federal court. The maximum sentence is 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Federal records indicate that Goukasian is not a U.S. citizen and that he has required a Russian translator for court proceedings.
His alleged accomplices have not been charged, according to Tarrant County and federal records.
Dianna Hunt, 817-390-7084