Surveillance footage of a 25-year-old Brazilian man attaching skimmers to ATMs along the Strip provided a significant break for federal investigators who are zeroing in on 21 suspects in a massive, casino-focused money laundering operation.
Eleven of those suspects are in custody, and three of them — including the 25-year-old Vitor Domingues Valentini Dos Reis — were arraigned in federal court Friday in Las Vegas on money laundering and fraud conspiracy charges resulting from what authorities describe as a multimillion-dollar scheme. Dos Reis, Francisco Rui De Alencar Mendes Filho, and Andre Araujo Rodrigues all appeared in court wearing bright-orange prison jumpsuits, and pleaded not guilty to charges contained in the 47-count indictment.
The charges suggest that the defendants, betting on their own counterfeiting abilities, transformed casino ATMs across the country into guaranteed-win slot machines.
In rapid fashion, Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Burns on Friday highlighted some of the evidence against Dos Reis, Filho, and Rodrigues while he argued for their continued detention pending trial.
“Video surveillance shows him placing skimmers on ATMs throughout the Las Vegas Strip,” the prosecutor said of Dos Reis, portraying him as a slick and reckless career criminal who repeatedly avoided capture before his arrest earlier this year.
The federal government is seeking more than $6 million in forfeiture from the 21 people indicted, and Burns said the evidence includes “almost $100,000 in fraudulent credit card cashouts” by Dos Reis alone. He said authorities also obtained surveillance footage of Dos Reis conducting fraudulent credit card purchases at a Bellagio retailer.
Burns described the operation as a “sophisticated credit card fraud and skimming” scheme that occurred over at least two years. Federal authorities who investigated the case seized counterfeiting equipment and card-skimming devices from the houses of some of the suspects.
The indictment indicates that Las Vegas’ cash-driven casino gambling scene served as a profitable headquarters for the criminal enterprise. But the charges also include fraudulent purchases and cash withdrawals at casinos or luxury retail stores in New York, New Jersey, Mississippi, Louisiana, Michigan, Florida and California.
Dos Reis and Filho were arrested in New York earlier this year, and authorities seized forgery equipment from a storage unit they shared, Burns said Friday.
Dos Reis is accused in the indictment of physically fighting and resisting security officers to avoid arrest following an attempted purchase at a Tourneau watch store in New York. In a separate instance, he was almost physically apprehended by police but “drove off, endangering pedestrians,” Burns said.
All 21 people charged in the indictment are citizens of Brazil. Dos Reis, Filho and Rodrigues are being held on Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers, a tool used by federal immigration authorities to determine whether they are subject to deportation.
“He came here exclusively for the purpose to defraud,” Burns said of Dos Reis. He provided the most details about the charges against Dos Reis, who was the first to appear Friday, but told U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach that the allegations against the next two men were similar.
Ten of the people charged are still on the lam. Burns said Friday that “numerous … co-conspirators have attempted to flee when they became aware” of the ongoing federal investigation.
The three men spoke only in Portuguese during the hearing, giving one- and two-word answers to Ferenbach’s questions through a translator.
Dos Reis is charged with use or trafficking of an unauthorized access device; aggravated identity theft; possession of access device-making equipment; production, use, or trafficking of counterfeit access device; possession of 15 or more counterfeit or unauthorized access devices; conspiracy to commit money laundering; money laundering; and conspiracy to commit fraud.
Filho, 26, is charged with possession of access device-making equipment; production, use, or trafficking of counterfeit access device; possession of access device-making equipment; conspiracy to commit money laundering; and conspiracy to commit fraud.
Rodrigues, 33, is charged with conspiracy to commit fraud; possession of access device-making equipment; production, use or trafficking of counterfeit access device; and conspiracy to commit money laundering.