Crime - Sacto 911

Two Sacramentans charged in credit card scheme

An indictment unsealed recently in federal court in Sacramento charges three people, including two from Sacramento, for participating in a large-scale scheme to defraud more than 119,000 credit card account holders by making false charges on their accounts.

In one instance, they are accused of having obtained stolen or misappropriated transcripts from a Sacramento-area high school and used the students’ identities to establish fictitious businesses for use in the scheme, according to a U.S. attorney’s office news release.

The original indictment, returned March 20, 2014, charged Mihran Melkonyan, 35, of Sacramento and Rouslan Akhmerov, 41, of Los Angeles with 23 counts of wire fraud and mail fraud. Akhmerov pleaded guilty to credit card fraud in December and awaits sentencing.

The indictment charges Melkonyan and adds defendants Ruslan Kirilyuk, 37, of Los Angeles and Aleksandr Maslov, 34, of Sacramento to the indictment, charging all three defendants with 23 counts of mail fraud. Kirilyuk also is charged with one count of aggravated identity theft.

Melkonyan has been in custody since his arrest April 15, authorities said, and Maslov was arrested Tuesday and released on bond. Kirilyuk has yet to appear in court, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

According to court documents, between Oct. 5, 2011, and March 5, 2014, the defendants participated in a scheme to obtain money from credit card holders, credit card companies and third-party credit card payment processors by charging individuals’ credit cards without their permission or knowledge for goods and services that were not provided.

The defendants are accused of creating at least 70 fictitious businesses for the purpose of billing stolen credit cards, using names that sounded legitimate such as 24 Quick Stop, Best Box, Chevron, Marshall Store, Stop Shop Market, Walt Mart and Whole Store. In some cases, authorities said, the fictitious businesses had Internet domain names and email addresses associated with them that were used to create the appearance of a legitimate business. Some of the fictitious businesses were established in the names of unknowing victims, such as the high school students whose transcripts were allegedly obtained by the defendants.

According to the indictment, the defendants obtained information for credit card accounts and processed a large number of small payments from different credit cards in a relatively short period. The credit card providers such as American Express and third-party payment processors such as PayPal credited the businesses’ accounts based on the processed credit card transactions for the purported sales.

Authorities said that as part of the scheme, the defendants opened multiple bank accounts that they controlled using the identity theft victims. These accounts were linked directly to the businesses’ merchant accounts with credit card providers and third-party credit card payment processors. The defendants then transferred money from the businesses’ merchant accounts to the bank accounts of the victims, and then withdrew cash from these accounts through ATM withdrawals, using debit cards and other means, officials said.