TYLER, TX (KLTV) - A joint investigation by the Tyler Police Department, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Secret Service, and the Mexican federal police has resulted in the arrest of two fugitives involved in a large-scale gas pump skimmer operation.
The two suspects, who were considered to be key figures in the skimming operation, were arrested in Cancun, Mexico, on Thursday, according to a press release from the Tyler Police Department.
Jorge Rondon Martinez and Leidy Labrada Del La Guardia fled the country to avoid being arrested on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity, unlawful interception, use or disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications from the Tyler Police Department, the press release state.
"Thanks to liaison by the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Secret Service with the Mexican Federal Police the fugitives were located by Mexican Federal Police in Cancun, Mexico," the press release stated. "Authorities determined that they were in the country illegally operating a restaurant. On Thursday, June 28, 2018, both subjects were taken into custody by Mexican authorities, while at the same time, Tyler Police investigators were meeting in Austin with the Attorney General's Office about the gas skimming problem in Texas."
Mexican authorities returned Martinez and De La Guardia to the United States. The press release stated that Tyler PD investigators took custody of the two suspects in Houston on Friday and are transporting them to the Smith County Jail on the outstanding warrants.
Judge Jack Skeen set the bond amount at $2.25 million for each suspect, the press release stated.
"As authorities continue to crack down on subjects that are involved in these crimes, there has been a decrease of skimmers found in the greater Tyler and Smith County area," the press release stated. "This is thanks to the hard work of law enforcement and gas station owners taking proactive security measures."
Back in July of 2017, the Tyler Police Department, the Smith County Sheriff's Office, and the United States Secret Service held a joint press conference to announce the arrest of five Cuban nationals who had allegedly been involved in a "large-scale gas skimming fraud scheme that was predominantly occurring in Texas."
At that press conference, authorities said that the devices used in the scheme are internal skimmers that are installed inside the gas pumps. More than a dozen gas stations in Tyler and Smith County were found to have gas pumps with the skimmers.
The devices are so advanced that some of them, once installed, can send a text message to the skimmer about a new card being used.
The suspects that were taken into custody back in 2017 include Emilio Francisco Alvarez, Hilda Perez de la Guardia, Eligio Diegez-Arias, Nolberto Neranjo Rivera, and Yamiel Alvarez-Guerra. All of them were captured in Houston, with tens of thousands of card numbers at their disposal.
Back in April, Tyler Police Department and Smith County Sheriff's Office began receiving reports that residents were experiencing identity theft. What followed involved months of investigation.
Officials said the groups appear to be organized cells that have been found in multiple cities.
Tyler Police Department, Smith County Sheriff's Office, the Secret Service, Bullard Police Department, Houston Police Department, ICE and Homeland Security were all involved in the large-scale initial investigation.
The accused skimmers aren't just stealing from individuals. Maddox Air Conditioning in Tyler was hit for almost $30,000, just from one employee's card back in 2017. He was going to the same station, on a regular basis for fuel.
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