Man seeking U.S. asylum accused of installing skimmers on Butler County gas pumps

A Cuban national who was seeking asylum in the United States has been charged with using gas pump skimmers in Butler and Hamilton counties.

Indictments were unsealed by the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati on Monday and announced by federal law enforcement officials. No court dates have been scheduled as of Monday afternoon, according to the court’s website.

Yosbel Ponce Bernal, 26, of Florida, has been charged with using gas pump skimmers in Butler and Hamilton counties. Ponce was arrested Friday in Louisville, Ky.

A skimmer placed inside a gas pump collects credit card information from victims using the pump. According to investigators, skimmers are installed between the credit card reader and the other internal circuitry of the gas pump.

The intended gas purchase will typically proceed without interruption or any notification to the victim or third party. A single gas station skimmer is capable of storing credit card information for hundreds of victims, and many skimmers are capable of storing approximately thousands of card numbers, investigators said.

Using a skimmer is a federal crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, in September 2018, the Butler County Auditor’s Office alerted the FBI to a skimmer in Fairfield. The auditor’s office removed the skimmer and discovered information stored from 27 credit cards.

In October, surveillance video of the gas pumps recorded Ponce opening the gas pump door and spending minutes allegedly installing a second skimming device deeper into the gas pump than the first skimmer had been. Ponce is recorded at the pump after midnight; the gas station closed at 11 p.m.

In November, skimmers were discovered on two gas pumps in Hamilton County. Video surveillance from the Hamilton County location also allegedly depicts Ponce.

Law enforcement officials tested a gas pump for fingerprints and matched two prints to Ponce. Ponce’s fingerprints are on record from previously applying for asylum in the United States.

“We appreciate the efforts of the FBI and United States Attorney’s Office as we work together to combat this criminal activity in the region,” said Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds.

U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman commended the investigation of this case by the FBI’s Cincinnati Division, the Butler County Auditor’s Office, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Landry, who is prosecuting the case.

A criminal complaint merely contains allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.

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