A man who placed a debit card skimming device on a bank security door and trained hidden cameras on automated teller machines so he could steal the PINs of thousands of customers was handed a two-year prison term Tuesday.
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Daniel Axinte, 49, pleaded guilty last month to identity theft, burglary and grand theft charges.
Superior Court Judge Dwayne Moring said Axinte -- who was ordered to pay $116,650 in restitution -- could serve his prison sentence in local custody under a law passed last year to reduce inmate overcrowding.
Deputy District Attorney Sharla Evert said Axinte was among a group of Armenians and Romanians who traveled to San Diego from Los Angeles and Glendale to steal from customers of Chase bank.
Axinte had a 2007 misdemeanor conviction for tampering with an ATM in Los Angeles, Evert said.
"This is an organized crime," the prosecutor told the judge. "He's working with others. It's a serious problem for our community."
Moring said the offenses showed criminal sophistication at a "very high level" and noted the defendant had not shown remorse. Axinte told a probation officer that he wasn't involved in the identity theft, the judge noted.
"You're clearly guilty, and this sentence is clearly warranted," Moring told the defendant.
By imposing the two-year term, Axinte and others will know that "this is not a game," Evert said. "This is not something San Diego is going to be tolerating."
In addition to placing the debit card skimming device on the security door of a Chase bank branch in Rancho Penasquitos, Axinte installed covert cameras to obtain the PINs of unsuspecting customers when they punched their code into ATMs at the same branch, prosecutors said.
Axinte is believed to have obtained the security codes for more than 970 ATM/debit cards, resulting in estimated losses of $300,000, Evert said. Bank customers had no idea their personal information was compromised.
Evert said Axinte used reconfigured debit cards from the stolen personal information and withdrew money from the victims' accounts between January and July of last year, mostly in $500 increments. One victim had to get a new debit cards three times, the prosecutor said.
Axinte would install the skimming devices on a Saturday morning and remove them that evening, Evert said. She said Axinte stole personal identifying information on seven different weekends at the same branch.
Chase bank notified the San Diego Regional Fraud Task Force of the series of crimes occurring at its branch on Black Mountain Road.
Prosecutors said a Chase investigator determined someone had been placing the debit card skimming device on the security door accessing the lobby of the Black Mountain bank and ATMs. The bank investigator reviewed surveillance videos from the branch and determined the same suspect had installed the skimmer on previous weekends.
Investigators from the fraud task force conducted surveillance at the branch and arrested Axinte late last July.
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