Christopher John Aragon, who pleaded guilty in March to leading a crime ring that stole thousands of personal identities for counterfeit credit cards used to buy high-end goods that were re-sold online, has been sentenced to 25 years in state prison. The Capistrano Beach 52-year-old is the final of eight defendants, including Aragon's wife, to be tried in the case, which put the others behind bars for terms ranging from one to seven years.
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Between March 29, 2004, and April 15, 2007, hacker Guy Itzak Shitrit, 28, of Miami, Florida, obtained credit card numbers used to encode forged credit cards. Chris Aragon, his wife Clara Aragon, 40, also of Capistrano Beach, and five others made fraudulent California driver's licenses, credit cards and gift cards. (The others are: Sarah Jean Gunderson, 30, Tustin; Elizabeth Ann Esquer, 35, Irvine; Nancy Diaz Silva, 30, San Juan Capistrano; Federico Vigo, 53, Northridge; and Marcus Phillipe Rojas, 37, Mission Viejo.)
With the phony cards they bought designer handbags, jewelry, clothing and electronics at stores throughout California and Las Vegas, then resold the stuff on eBay and Craigslist. The scam unraveled on May 12, 2007, when Aragon and Shitrit used fake Visa and American Express cards to buy $13,000 worth of watches, Coach handbags and men's and women's clothing at the Fashion Island Bloomingdale's. When the scan of the magnetic encoding on the back of a credit card did not match the imprint of the card, Newport Beach Police were alerted, and Aragon and Shitrit were arrested in the parking lot.
A search of Aragon's vehicle produced more than 50 forged credit and gift cards, as well as phony California driver licenses bearing various names with Aragon's photo. Also inside the vehicle were 20 ecstasy pills and prescription Xanax, and a search of Aragon's home produced even more phony-baloney credit cards and driver licenses, as well as high-end goods purchased with them.
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Searches of the residences of other crime ring members produced similar finds, but inside Shirit's Aliso Viejo apartment investigators found a $10,000 machine used to make credit cards, a halogram presser, a backlight printer, credit card writers, fake drivers licenses and thumb drives with thousands of hacked and stolen credit card numbers.
Chris Aragon pleaded guilty March 26 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.
Clara Aragon, Gunderson, Esquer, Silva, Shitrit and Vigo pleaded guilty at various times in 2007 to more than 80 felony counts each, including conspiracy to commit identity theft, identity theft, burglary, and possession of stolen property. Rojas pleaded guilty that year to 17 felony counts including identity theft, grand theft, burglary, possession of stolen property, possession of drugs for sale, possession of counterfeiting equipment.