Mar 272012
 

The leader of a crime ring was convicted yesterday of stealing thousands of personal identities and counterfeiting credit cards to buy high-end goods to be resold on eBay and Craigslist. Christopher John Aragon, 51, Capistrano Beach, pleaded guilty March 26, 2012, to 50 felony counts including 33 counts of unauthorized use of personal identifying information, 13 counts of grand theft, two counts of counterfeiting access cards, and one count each of conspiracy to commit a crime and the sale or transport of a controlled substance. He also admitted to two sentencing enhancements for property damage over $1 million and aggravated white collar crime over $500,000. Aragon is expected to be sentenced to 25 years in state prison at his sentencing Sept. 28, 2012, at 9:00 a.m. in Department C-45, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana.

Co-defendants Clara Aragon, 39, Capistrano Beach, Sarah Jean Gunderson, 29, Tustin, Elizabeth Ann Esquer, 34, Irvine, Nancy Diaz Silva, 29, San Juan Capistrano, Guy Itzak Shitrit, 28, Miami, FL, and Federico Vigo, 52, Northridge, pleaded guilty to the court at various times in 2007 to over 80 felony counts each, including conspiracy to commit identity theft, identity theft, burglary, and possession of stolen property. Marcus Phillipe Rojas, 37, Mission Viejo, pleaded guilty in 2007 to 17 felony counts including identity theft, grand theft, burglary, possession of stolen property, possession of drugs for sale, possession of counterfeiting equipment. Their sentences ranged from one year in Orange County Jail with three years of formal probation up to seven years in state prison.

Between March 29, 2004, and April 15, 2007, Christopher Aragon led a crime ring which included his wife Clara Aragon and six co-defendants. Co-defendant Shitrit was a hacker who obtained victims’ credit card numbers used to encode forged credit cards. Christopher Aragon and his co-defendants used credit profiles and personal identifying information of victims to make fraudulent California driver’s licenses, credit cards, and gift cards. The defendants encoded the magnetic strips of the credit and gift cards with stolen account information, and used the cards to purchase high-end merchandise, including designer handbags, jewelry, clothing, and electronics. Christopher Aragon hired a crew of primarily women to make purchases for him. These women traveled throughout California and to Las Vegas to purchase high-end goods. Christopher Aragon and his co-defendants resold the merchandise on eBay and Craigslist. Clara Aragon hired an employee solely to sell stolen goods on eBay.

On May 12, 2007, Christopher Aragon and Shitrit entered Bloomingdale’s at Fashion Island, Newport Beach, and used fake and fraudulent American Express and Visa cards to make purchases totaling over $13,000. They purchased Coach handbags, men’s and women’s clothing, and watches. Newport Beach police officers were alerted when the scan of the magnetic encoding on the back of a credit card did not match the imprint of the card. Christopher Aragon and Shitrit were arrested in the parking lot and a search of Christopher Aragon’s vehicle led to over 50 forged credit and gift cards, and fraudulent California driver’s licenses bearing various names with Christopher Aragon’s photo. Inside the vehicle, police also found 20 ecstasy pills and prescription Xanax.

During the investigation, hundreds of forged credit and gift cards and fraudulent California driver’s licenses were discovered at Christopher Aragon’s home and high-end goods were found at his and his wife’s business office. Similar items were found at other co-defendants’ homes when searched. At Shirit’s Aliso Viejo apartment, investigators found a forgery lab designed to encode credit cards in the process of being set up, and credit card writers, and thumb drives with thousands of hacked and stolen credit card numbers.

Deputy District Attorney Yvette Patko of the Major Fraud Unit is prosecuting this case.

Source: District Attorney’s Office, Orange County, California

In his book, Kingpin, Kevin Poulsen devotes a chapter to Aragon, who was Max Butler’s partner on Carders Market. Kevin also wrote about him in an article on Wired Magazine in December 2008.

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