'Brilliant' ATM scammer is jailed
Published 15/02/2012 | 05:00
A 'BRILLIANT' criminal ran a global credit card scamming operation from the box room of his suburban home.
Vitalii Pascari (33) had been pursued by police forces across Europe and America but it wasn't until gardai raided his four-bed, semi-detached home in Limerick in February 2011 that the sophistication of his skimming operation was uncovered.
His neighbours never guessed that the clean-cut Moldovan was manufacturing false automated bank machines, known as ATMs, and cards for criminal gangs around the world at the well-kept house at River Road, Rhebogue, Limerick. Using online videos, Pascari taught himself how to manufacture dodgy ATMs.
He was a clearly a "brilliant" man, Judge Caroll Moran said at Limerick Circuit Court yesterday -- but it was a shame he chose to use his intelligence to pursue a life of crime.
Pascari was jailed for five years for the scam, which he told gardai he'd been running for a year. He had been shipping false ATMs and ATM parts to clients in Greece, Italy, Hong Kong, South Africa, France and the US. He has since used his expertise to help gardai in other fraud investigations.
The items recovered by gardai included five plastic ATM covers, four lap tops, 150 plastic gift cards from Debenhams, Dunnes Stores and TK Maxx, spray cans, copper sheets, battery packs, metal strips, mobile phones, cameras, and chip devices.
Gardai also found a portable USB computer memory device containing 13 videos of members of the public typing in their pin numbers at ATMs.
At an earlier hearing, Pascari pleaded guilty to eight counts of theft and fraud relating to the alleged manufacturing and distribution of ATM skimming devices.
Judge Carroll Moran said it was not possible to calculate the loss Pascari had caused to credit card companies, their customers, or to businesses.
"It is submitted (by the defence) that he is not a 'Mr Big'. But there was an amazing level of sophistication in the operation and the accused showed remarkable ability," Judge Moran said.
"His ability in these matters is very impressive.
"He clearly is a brilliant man and I have to compliment him on that. But it is a pity he used brilliance for crime rather than legal business," the judge added.
Judge Moran said the crime "went to the heart of the system of credit card banking" and undermined a system of banking now universally used in the developed world.
"It completely tends to undermine the system of dealing in money in the Western world," the judge added.
Limerick Circuit Court previously heard Pascari ordered the parts directly from ATM companies to assemble custom-made ATMs for crime gangs.
At the time of his arrest the accused was unemployed but had around €30,000 in his bank account, the court heard.
John O'Sullivan, prosecuting, explained how Pascari created bank cards for his criminal clients by electronically encoding personal bank details of members of the public on to the magnetic strips located at the back of gift cards.
Pascari was caught when a box, addressed to the accused and labelled "anti-skimming devices", was spotted at a DHL depot by custom and excise officers attached to the Revenue Commissioners.
The majority of the false ATM cards were "ready for use" and "had the pin numbers stuck on to them", Mr O'Sullivan said.
"He would advertise his services on a website. People would purchase the devices he had made up or device parts and he would sell them on," Mr O'Sullivan added.
At the time of his arrest, Pascari was completing three new orders for clients in Europe and had sold a skimming device to a client in Italy for €1,000.
Mark Nicholas, defending, told the court that his client had no previous convictions and had a wife and two young children.
The judge jailed Pascari for five years backdating the sentence to February 25 last year, when he was first arrested.
Cash amounting to €4,100 and $5,650 (€4.316) seized at Pascari's home was forfeited to the State, while Judge Moran ordered the equipment be detained.
The prosecution asked for the retention of the equipment as it might assist them in similar investigations in the future.
Pascari's arrest was at the height of a spate of skimming scams, mainly organised by Bulgarian gangs based here.
But the scams were brought to a halt by a nationwide garda operation, spearheaded by the national fraud bureau, which led to the arrest of some of the main suspected players and resulted in other suspects leaving the country. Pascari was not involved with the Bulgarians and carried out his own illegal business from his Limerick base.
Gardai described his conviction as a major success in their battle against fraudsters.