A Glendale florist was arrested at his hillside home Thursday for allegedly using bank account information stolen from his customers to buy $1,900 in gift cards at Target stores in Glendale and Burbank.
Vahik Ghookasian, owner of Daisy's Florist on the 1400 block of West Glenoaks Boulevard, allegedly bought the cards — which can be spent anywhere like pre-loaded debit cards — and then "purchased" items from his own store to pocket the money, police said.
Glendale police detectives and Secret Service agents — experts in financial crime investigations — served search warrants just after 7 a.m. Thursday at Ghookasian's home on the 1600 block of Ridgeview Drive.
Detectives discovered hundreds of blank credit cards, re-encoded cards, computers, hard drives, embossing and printing equipment inside the home. Agents also found a credit card skimming device at the flower shop.
Due to the equipment and access to consumer information, authorities said the extent of alleged fraud could be far greater, with hundreds of more victims dating as far back as 2009.
Ghookasian allegedly recorded customer bank account information when customers swiped their cards at his flower shop. He then used the information to buy 19 separate $100-gift cards at the Target stores, Glendale police Det. Ralph Garcia said.
The Visa gift cards were redeemed at Daisy's so it would appear as though someone bought $100 in flowers and merchandise, Garcia said.
Ghookasian mostly performed flower deliveries while his wife, Hilda, handled floral arrangements, said Lisa Kim, owner of Regency Cleaners, a few doors down from the flower shop.
The couple owned the shop for at least 20 years, she added.
"They are normal [and] very kind," Kim said.
Ghookasian's wife and son, Peter, also were arrested on suspicion of identity theft, police said.
Detectives found numerous credit cards — each wrapped in a Post-it note with a handwritten three-digit PIN number — in Peter Ghookasian's car.
The investigation into Ghookasian began after two Glendale residents reported fraudulent purchases made at Target stores on their debit cards, Garcia said.
Video surveillance footage allegedly showed Ghookasian purchasing the gift cards using bank information that was tied to purchases at his flower shop.
Ghookasian also allegedly used one of the victims' account information to buy pumpkins at a Vons store. Officers later observed the pumpkins in his front yard, Garcia said.
Police believe more victims may crop up because Ghookasian accepted flower orders over the phone through a service called Teleflorist, which required purchasers to provide their credit or debit card numbers.
Anyone with information on the case, or who suspects they may have been victimized, is encouraged to call Garcia at (818) 548-3101.