LL woman indicted for felony fraud

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A Los Lunas woman has been indicted on numerous federal felony charges for allegedly using other people's credit card numbers for personal purchases and depositing thousands of dollars worth of checks and cash into her own account.

Sandra Rivas, of Los Lunas, has been indicted by a U.S. District Court grand jury on 11 counts of bank fraud, 11 counts of aggravated identity theft, 17 counts of wire fraud and one count of access device fraud.

According to an application for a search warrant filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, Rivas was a receptionist for Leigh Van Gilst CPA & Associates, a small accounting firm that provides tax preparation services in Los Lunas.

A special agent with the Department of Homeland Security said he had been working a joint investigation with the Los Lunas Police Department involving Rivas.

"Rivas is suspected of illegally obtaining and fraudulently utilizing personal information from credit cards, bank routing information and other personal identifying information for personal gain," the agent wrote in the application.

"Rivas is also suspected of committing bank fraud by depositing checks into her personal account that were intended for payment to her employer."

The Department of Homeland Security and the Los Lunas Police Department were both involved in the investigation.

According to the application, on May 18, 2011, Los Lunas police was dispatched to the Girls Work Emporium in reference to a call regarding a victim of credit card fraud. The woman reported that between May 11-13, 2011, her card had been used four times to make unauthorized online purchases of beauty products, clothing and airline tickets to Mexico, totaling more than $940.

The victim told police she first discovered the charges when she received a letter from the beauty supply company regarding the products. The letter indicated shipping information was sent to a certain email address, which didn't belong to the victim.

Through their investigation, the officer learned that the IP address of the email was maintained by the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

The president of the chamber told police that the name on the email didn't belong to anyone who had ever worked for the chamber.

"Additional interviews with administrative personnel at the chamber of commerce revealed that Sandra Rivas was an employee from July 28, 2008, to June 17, 2009, which is during the time frame the … email address was created," the application states.

When Rivas left the chamber, she was hired as a receptionist at the Los Lunas CPA firm.

The woman who reported the credit card fraud told police that the last time she used her card prior to the fraudulent purchases was at Leigh Van Gilst CPA & Associates. She told the officer she gave her credit card to the receptionist to pay for services.

Other vendor documents revealed that clothing purchased on the woman's credit card was shipped to a P.O. box in Los Lunas, which had been maintained by the Westside Family Chapel. The pastor of the church told the officer, when asked, that he and another individual, a volunteer at the church, had access to the P.O. box. That volunteer was also an employee at the Los Lunas CPA firm.

When interviewed by police, the volunteer told them that part of Rivas' duties was picking up mail for the church. The volunteer also told officers that Rivas was terminated from the CPA firm after an internal investigation revealed she was modifying and altering entries of payments from clients, the application said.

During a search at Riva's home, on the 200 block of Solitude in Los Lunas, officers seized several items, including sticky notes with handwritten credit card information listing various names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers and two flash drives.

On May 17, 2011, another customer reported an unauthorized withdrawal of more than $2,500 from his personal bank account, which was paid to an international wire remitting service which is used to transfer funds electronically.

A search of the work computer utilized by Rivas at the Leigh Van Gilst CPA firm revealed four wire transactions between May 10, 2011, and June 14, 2011, which listed Rivas as the sender and Carlos Gonzales, her husband, in Michoacan, Mexico, as the recipient.

The application also said further investigation revealed an additional five people, who were all clients of Leigh Van Gilst CPA, had been victims of attempted fraudulent transactions from their bank accounts.

A review of bookkeeping records by LLPD revealed various checks, totalling more than $2,600, originally made to Leigh Van Gilst CPA & Associates for services were modified and deposited into Rivas' personal bank account.

Van Gilst told police that in March 2011, two laptop computers were fraudulently purchased with a Staples credit card held in her name. She told police, according to the application, Rivas had access to the card, but for official use only.

Los Lunas police served a subpoena to Staples requesting documents related to the purchase. A review of the documents revealed that the two computers were picked up by her husband, Carlos Gonzales.

Rivas was arrested on May 24. As a condition of pre-trial release, Rivas was ordered to return the two laptops.

On June 5, an agent with the Department of Homeland Security retrieved the laptops from the office of Rivas' defense attorney Phil Medrano.

The application states that the computers were reported to have been in Mexico in the custody of Carlos Gonzales before they were transported by a family member to the attorney's office.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.