Venezuelan national jailed for credit card fraud

A 42-year-old Venezue­lan man, who ad­mit­ted to mak­ing close to $200,000 in less than a month by cred­it card fraud, has been sen­tenced to six years in prison.

Jorge Julio re­ceived the sen­tence for be­ing in pos­ses­sion of the cash, know­ing it was the pro­ceeds of fraud, when he reap­peared be­fore Mag­is­trate Maris­sa Gomez in the Port-of-Spain Mag­is­trates’ Court, yes­ter­day af­ter­noon.

Julio al­so re­ceived two sen­tences of three years in prison for two sets of fraud­u­lent cred­it cards that were al­leged­ly re­cov­ered in his apart­ment when he was ar­rest­ed on Car­ni­val Sun­day.

How­ev­er, Julio will on­ly have to serve the largest sen­tence as Gomez or­dered that all three be served con­cur­rent­ly.

Julio was ini­tial­ly charged along­side his fel­low coun­try­man Miguel Eleazar Briceno for the crimes and both men had plead­ed guilty when they first ap­peared in court on March 11.

How­ev­er, even be­fore Briceno heard the pos­si­ble sen­tence he was fac­ing dur­ing Julio’s hear­ing, he opt­ed to change his plea to not guilty. His de­ci­sion meant that his case will now have to go on tri­al be­fore Gomez.

Pre­sent­ing a mit­i­ga­tion plea on Julio’s be­half, at­tor­ney Steven Maw­er asked for le­nien­cy as he claimed that fi­nan­cial and po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in Venezuela forced his client to leave the coun­try to pro­vide for his wife and chil­dren.

His claim was chal­lenged by As­sis­tant Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions (DPP) Tri­cia Hudlin-Coop­er who point­ed out that Julio ad­mit­ted to pur­chas­ing the cards in Venezuela when he was first in­ter­viewed by po­lice. She al­so not­ed that Julio claimed to have planned to car­ry out the fraud dur­ing Car­ni­val cel­e­bra­tions to avoid de­tec­tion.

“It was pre­med­i­tat­ed and a very sys­tem­at­ic at­tack on our fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions,” Hudlin-Coop­er said.

She sug­gest­ed that the fraud would have re­quired plan­ning as Julio man­aged to gath­er a large quan­ti­ty of cash de­spite dai­ly with­draw­al lim­its at ATMs.

In pass­ing the sen­tence, Gomez said that while she was well aware of the on­go­ing sit­u­a­tion in Venezuela, she not­ed that such was not a valid de­fence to crim­i­nal­i­ty.

“There are many such per­sons in Venezuela. I know of a judge who is beg­ging, and cut­ting grass and co­conuts to earn mon­ey. There are many le­git­i­mate ways to earn mon­ey,” Gomez said.

The men were ar­rest­ed on Car­ni­val Sun­day fol­low­ing an op­er­a­tion by de­tec­tives of the Fi­nan­cial In­tel­li­gence Unit. The unit al­leged set up sur­veil­lance at First Cit­i­zens Bank (FCB) branch at One Wood­brook Place af­ter re­ceiv­ing re­ports of sus­pi­cious trans­ac­tions from the bank’s se­cu­ri­ty per­son­nel.

The of­fi­cers re­port­ed­ly ob­served the men at the lo­ca­tion and then fol­lowed them to an apart­ment build­ing at Syden­ham Av­enue, St Ann’s. They ob­tained a search war­rant and then raid­ed the prop­er­ty.

Dur­ing the search, the of­fi­cers found the cash and one set of blank cred­it cards hid­den in a cov­ered bak­ing dish in a cup­board. The sec­ond batch of cards was found in a bin when in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­turned to the prop­er­ty af­ter in­ter­view­ing Julio.

Gomez was ex­pect­ed to con­sid­er bail for Briceno dur­ing yes­ter­day’s hear­ing but had to ad­journ the is­sue as a fam­i­ly friend from Rich­plain, Diego Mar­tin, who vol­un­teered to serve as his sure­ty had not pre­sent­ed him­self to po­lice to be vet­ted in time for the hear­ing. Briceno will reap­pear in court on May 13.

 - by Derek Achong

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