ID Theft Ringleader Pleads Guilty to 50 Felonies

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A Capistrano Beach man was convicted yesterday for leading a crime ring that stole thousands of personal identities and counterfeit credit cards, and used fake credit cards to purchase over $13,000 worth of items at Fashion Island just before being arrested in the parking lot.

Christopher John Aragon, 51, was arrested in the Fashion Island parking lot on May 12, 2007, after Newport Beach police were contacted when the scan of the magnetic encoding on the back of a credit card did not match the imprint on the card, according to the Orange County District Attorney.

He bought Coach handbags, men’s and women’s clothing and watches at Fashion Island before he was arrested, the OCDA’s statement released on Tuesday reported. Following a search of his vehicle at the shopping center, police found more than 50 forged credit and gift cards, California driver’s licenses with various names and Aragon’s photo, 20 ecstasy pills and prescription Xanax, according to the report.

Aragon pleaded guilty to 50 felony counts that centered around him leading a crime ring of seven others, including his wife, that would purchase high-end items with fake credit cards and then resale them on eBay and Craigslist.

The group used personal identifying information of victims to make fraudulent driver’s licenses, and credit cards and gift cards, which had magnetic strips encoded with stolen account information.

Aragon hired the crew of mostly women to purchase high-end merchandise including designer purses, jewelry, clothing and electronics throughout California and to Las Vegas.

His wife, Clara, hired someone solely to sell the stolen merchandise online, according to the OCDA.

Hundreds of fake credit and gift cards, driver’s licenses, and high-end merchandise was found during the investigation at Aragon’s home, his wife’s business office, and the other co-defendant’s houses. Police also found a forgery lab in the process of being set up with credit card writers and flash drives containing thousands of hacked and stolen credit card numbers.

Christopher Aragon was charged with unauthorized use of personal identifying information, grand theft, counterfeiting access cards, conspiracy to commit a crime and the sale or transport of a controlled substance, with two sentencing enhancements for property damage over $1 million and aggravated white collar crime over $500,000, according to the OC district attorney’s office.

All of his co-defendants pleaded guilty various times in 2007 to charges including conspiracy to commit identity theft, identity theft, burglary, possession of stolen property. grand theft, burglary, possession of stolen property, possession of drugs for sale, and possession of counterfeiting equipment. Six of them were charged with over 80 felony counts each and one had just 17 felony counts.

His seven co-defendants included Clara Aragon, 39, of Capistrano Beach, Sarah Jean Gunderson, 29, of Tustin, Elizabeth Ann Esquer, 34, of Irvine, Nancy Diaz Silva, 29, of San Juan Capistrano, Guy Itzak Shitrit, 28, of Miami, Marcus Phillipe Rojas, 37, of Mission Viejo, and Federico Vigo, 52, of Northridge.

Aragon is expected to receive 25 years at his sentencing on Sept. 28.

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