Irvine man to serve 1 year

An Irvine man is scheduled to surrender himself to police Nov. 12 and serve a year in jail for his role in a credit card forgery ring, Orange County prosecutors said.

Jerome Abaquin Gonzales, 33, pleaded guilty in Orange County Superior Court Sept. 10 to felony counts of conspiracy to commit credit card fraud and trafficking and possessing access card materials.

The credit card information came from a data breach in a Florida supermarket chain between December 2007 and March 2008 where 4.2 million Discover Card accounts were compromised, the largest such breach in the nation's history.

In a six-week run between March and April 2008, Gonzales and Thomas Michio Taniguchi, 45, formerly of Northridge, used stolen Discover Card account information to get cash and merchandise from 33 locations in Orange County.

Gonzales and Taniguchi bought some of the account information on the black market over the Internet and created their own fake credit cards with victims' information. The men got cash, video game consoles and gift cards using their forged cards. Prosecutors said Gonzales mostly helped sell the items online, but in a few instances bought the merchandise himself using the bogus cards.

Gonzales' clean criminal record, minor role in the scheme and acceptance of wrongdoing early on helped get him a lighter sentence than Taniguchi, officials said. He also fully repaid the court-ordered restitution of $33,475.

"We're looking to obviously make the victim whole," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Chuck Lawhorn, who prosecuted the case. "I would say that in these kinds of cases, credit card fraud, it is very rare that we actually recover from the defendants. The option of going to state prison or a year in county jail if you can come up with the money is a great incentive."

Gonzales was sentenced to a year in jail and three years' formal probation. Taniguchi pleaded guilty Friday to 50 felony counts of fraudulent possession of access card account information and was sentenced to seven years and eight months in prison. He was ordered to pay $33,475 in restitution to Discover Card Financial Services as well.

Taniguchi was sentenced to four years in prison on a Los Angeles County courtroom for similar crimes earlier this year.

— Joseph Serna

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