Feds: Two sentenced in Montgomery County-connected national gas station skimming scheme

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Montgomery County released photos of the Fonda Mobil in September 2017 that showed wires and circuit boards that had been hidden.

ALBANY – Two Miami-area men were sentenced Wednesday for their roles in a national gas station skimming scheme uncovered in Montgomery County in 2019, federal prosecutors said.

The overall investigation included a state police stakeout of a Fonda gas station in 2017, authorities have said previously.

Hugo Hernandez, 35, of Miami Lakes, Fla., received five years in prison for his role in access device fraud and money laundering conspiracies. The second man, Marlon Palacios, 38, of Cape Coral, Fla., received four months in access device fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft, prosecutors said.

Both men pleaded guilty in their cases last year. 

Hernandez admitted that between December 2015 and July 2019, he conspired with others to commit access device fraud by building skimming devices designed to steal gas station customer information, then installing those devices at stations in Montgomery County and elsewhere, then using that information to create fraudulent credit and debit cards, officials said.

Hernandez also admitted to conspiracy to launder funds obtained through the fraud conspiracy, causing at least 162 money orders, worth more than $173,000, to be deposited into a bank account he controlled, prosecutors said.

Palacios admitted to being part of the same fraud conspiracy and to sending and receiving the stolen card information, prosecutors said.

Hernandez and Palacios were among eight indicted in the scheme in 2019 and 2020. 

Authorities discovered several such devices at Montgomery County stations in September 2017. Another discovery at a Fonda station in December 2017 led state police investigators to disable the devices and wait for the operators to return, authorities said then.

The conspirators traveled around the country, including to California, Kansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee to install the devices, prosecutors said previously.

In one instance, a co-conspirator withdrew $200 in Florida from a debit account owned by a Capital Region resident who had used a pay-at-the-pump in Amsterdam, the indictment alleged.

In another instance, a co-conspirator allegedly possessed three thumb drives that together contained more than 4,200 stolen debit or credit card numbers.

The conspirators installed the devices and harvested the data while distracting clerks, the indictment read. They also allegedly used vehicles to shield what they were doing.

The case was investigated by the FBI Albany Field Office, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service Boston and Miami divisions, FBI Field Offices in Miami and Pittsburgh and the U.S. Secret Service Miami Field Office. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rick Belliss.

By Steven Cook

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