PORTLAND — Three Bronx men pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday in a scheme aimed at defrauding Home Depot stores in Maine, including Auburn, where they were arrested for trying to buy items on store credit generated from bogus IDs.
The three men, who appeared in U.S. District Court via teleconference from their New York homes, each admitted to conspiracy to commit access device fraud, a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Prosecutors said the trio had sought to defraud the big-box chain stores by opening store credit card accounts using driver’s license information belonging to other people.
They were arrested in Auburn in November by local police after failing to make purchases at self-checkout stations at the Mount Auburn Avenue store using recently obtained store credit.
U.S. District Court Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. approved the guilty pleas of the three men after quizzing them about their waivers of in-person court appearances and their constitutional rights to stand trial.
Prosecutors recommended reductions in lengths of prison sentences from federal guidelines for the crimes because each of the three men had accepted responsibility for his crime and agreed to videoconference hearings made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic. Each man had the right to wait for the opportunity to be physically present in the courtroom for his respective hearing.
Pleading guilty Wednesday were: Jeremy Pinales-Diaz, 23, who spoke through a Spanish interpreter; Gilbert Reyes, 22; and Mickey Augusto Mejia-Rosario, 24, who moved from Dominican Republic to the United States when he was 12 years old.
Judge Woodcock said a federal felony conviction could have deportation consequences for a non-U.S. citizen, but Mejia-Rosario said he also was a citizen of this country.
The judge told the three men their bails would be continued until they were sentenced.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Perry said all three defendants had been in complete compliance with their bail conditions since they were released from custody after their arrests.
Judge Woodcock urged the men to continue to behave while on bail. Otherwise, he said, he might have to jail them and possibly impose a more severe sentence.
Investigators said that on Nov. 29, Reyes entered the Home Depot store in Biddeford where he opened a credit card account using the driver’s license of a Connecticut man. Reyes then bought items totaling nearly $2,500 using that account.
Later that day, a dark-colored minivan pulled into the parking lot of the South Portland Home Depot store where Reyes could be seen on surveillance video getting out of the van and going into the store. He tried to buy merchandise using a credit account whose information was stored on his cellphone, but the purchase failed.
When a sales associate asked for more information from him, he said he hadn’t finished shopping, then left the store after walking to the other side of the building. He could be seen on video walking to a dark colored van.
Later the same day, Reyes went into the Home Depot in Portland, where he bought nearly $2,500 in merchandise using the credit account he’d opened in Biddeford.
Pinales-Diaz opened a credit account electronically at the Portland store, then shopped for merchandise and tried to pay with the newly acquired credit, but the purchase failed at the register.
At the Auburn Home Depot, also later that day, Reyes tried to buy items at the self-checkout using his recent store credit, but when a sales associate asked him for identification, he walked away and out of the store.
Pinales-Diaz also tried to buy several items at Auburn store’s self-checkout with his newly opened store credit account. But the sales transaction failed and he left the store. He was seen getting into a dark colored van parked behind the store.
Store staff told local police, who were patrolling nearby, about the activities of the men.
Auburn police officers stopped the van that was driven by Mejia-Rosario.
Reyes told police he had come to Maine planning to open store credit accounts in the names of other people. He said he got personal information about other people from someone in the Dominican Republic. He then applied for credit cards in their names that he would use to buy merchandise, some of which he would resell.
He showed police a Connecticut driver’s license in the name of another person, but showing his photograph. He shared with police the credit account paperwork from the store.
He said there was roughly $4,000 in store merchandise in the van that had been bought using store credit cards that were obtained fraudulently.
Pinales-Diaz told police the trio had tried to get store accounts, but he hadn’t bought anything because he hadn’t gotten approval.
Asked where the fake identification was, he told police he threw it out the window of the van.
During a search of the van, police found electronics and power tools in new and original packaging, some still with store tags. Police also recovered at least seven store credit accounts in various personal and business names. Ripped documents had been pieced back together by officers, according to prosecutors.
None of the names on any of the accounts matched any of the three men.
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