A Santa Ana Shell gas station employee working in this country on a special work visa from India has been sentenced following a U.S. Secret Service investigation that discovered he'd taken $50,000 to allow other criminals to plant ATM card skimming devices inside gas pumps.
Bhavesh Vithalbhai Lakhani hoped his punishment would be limited to just six months of home confinement.
After all, Lakhani believes that the likelihood of eventually being deported back to India was severe punishment enough.
Assistant United States Attorney Todd T. Tristan acknowledged that Lakhani had ultimately confessed to federal agents (who'd tied him to the co-conspirators through cell phone records) and was thus willing to advocate a "low end" sentence of 367 days of imprisonment.
This week, U.S. District Court Judge Josephine Staton Tucker however sentenced Lakhani to four months in federal prison and ordered him to pay $145,151 in restitution to the ATM scam victims.
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A Secret Service report reviewed by the Weekly describes how Lakhani allowed his co-conspirators to insert the skimming devices inside the gas pumps on at least 10 occasions. The devices allowed the criminals to gain access to credit card numbers and ATM access codes. Lakhani had been asked to let the other criminals place a hidden camera in the gas station office ceiling so that they could steal ATM access codes there too, but he reportedly refused that request.
The thieves--including Ramiz Ahmed Qureshi, Sajid Ali and Nilesh Bharatkumar Kumar--tried to use the stolen information at banks in Fountain Valley, La Habra, Placentia, Cypress and Anaheim.
Judge Tucker ordered Lakhani, who was born in 1975, to surrender to U.S. marshals by August 20 so that he can be shipped to a federal prison.