Five Inland casinos — Pechanga, San Manuel, Morongo, Agua Caliente and Spa Resort — were among 11 resorts where 14 people staged a high-tech scheme to steal more than $1 million from Citibank accounts via ATM kiosks, the FBI said.
The plot required multiple withdrawals — all launched within 60 seconds — exploiting a hidden electronic gap in Citibank’s transaction security, FBI Special Agent in Charge Daphne Hearn said.
“While advancements in technology have created a world of accessibility to users and a convenience for consumers, they have also left room for criminals to exploit even the smallest of loopholes,” Hearn said in a news release.
A Citibank official said the loophole has been shut. The casinos were bystanders in this case, the FBI said. They do not own or operate the ATMs.
Ara Keshishyan, 29, of Fillmore, recruited conspirators who opened multiple Citibank checking accounts, the FBI said. Keshishyan then supplied them with seed money to deposit into the new accounts.
Keshishyan and his conspirators would then travel to 11 casinos: the Morongo (Cabazon), Pechanga (Temecula), San Manuel (Highland), Agua Caliente (Rancho Mirage), Spa Resort (Palm Springs) and Chukchansi (near Fresno) casinos in California; the Tropicana, Wynn and Bicycle casinos in Las Vegas; Whiskey Pete’s in Primm; and Harrah’s in Laughlin.
When inside the casino, the conspirators used cash-advance kiosks to withdraw several times the amount of money deposited into the accounts by exploiting the Citibank security loophole they discovered. They withdrew less than $10,000 at a time to avoid federal reporting requirements for financial transactions.
The indictment alleges that after the cash was collected, Keshishyan would typically give conspirators their cut and keep the remainder, which was often used to gamble.
The casinos, unaware of the scheme, frequently gave the conspirators free rooms because of their extensive gambling activity, the FBI wrote.
Most of the defendants were arrested last week, the FBI said.
“Through our own security measures and the diligence of our people we identified the fraudulent account activity and immediately notified the authorities,” Citibank spokeswoman Catherine Pulley wrote in an email Monday, Oct. 29. “No customer accounts were affected by the fraudulent activity.”
All of the defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to illegally structure financial transactions to avoid reporting requirements, punishable by up to five years in prison, and a $250,000 fine. In addition, Keshishyan is charged with 14 counts of bank fraud, each of which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
The defendants are due to be arraigned this week. They are residents of Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties.
BY BRIAN ROKOS
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