2 men accused of using device on Pasco ATM to read card numbers

Two Western Washington men were in court Monday on allegations they placed a device on a Pasco bank's ATM to read debit and credit card numbers.

Mihai Elekes, 34, and Janos Chertes, 40, are accused of using the card reader at the Chase bank on Road 68 on at least six days since July 24.

The men were arrested late Sunday in a sting operation involving Pasco police, Secret Service agents and bank security officials, who had been watching the ATM all day waiting for their return, according to court documents.

They are now in the Franklin County jail on an investigative hold for a rarely seen felony charge of unlawful "factoring of transactions."

Elekes of Issaquah has bail set at $250,000.

Chertes, who is believed to be from Kent, does not have a bail amount because he has a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold.

Prosecutors have until Wednesday afternoon to charge the men or release them.

It is not clear if customers' accounts were compromised and how much money may have been taken.

A court document written by Pasco Officer Ronald Seltun shows that when he came on duty at 4 p.m. Sunday, he was informed of a skimming device that had been placed on the Chase bank's ATM at 6:07 a.m. that day and had not yet been removed. Seltun was told that another officer was watching the ATM at 5210 Road 68.

Bank officials gave police a photo of the man who had installed the device. The same man allegedly used the device on the same ATM on July 24 between 6:35 a.m. and 11:11 p.m.; July 31 from 7:16 a.m. to 11:35 p.m.; Aug. 7 from 5:49 a.m. to 10:09 p.m.; Aug. 14 from 6:14 a.m. to 10:52 p.m.; and Aug. 21 from 7 a.m. to 11:16 p.m.

The man in the photo appeared to be heavyset and was wearing khaki shorts, a black hat, a blue hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses, documents stated.

Seltun reportedly took over for his colleague at 7 p.m. and watched the bank from an unmarked car parked nearby at a restaurant. He was told that bank security had a live video on the ATM and would call the officer when the suspect returned for the equipment.

At 11:07 p.m. Sunday, Seltun was waiting in his car when he noticed a red van drive behind the Chase building, out onto Road 68 and pull into another parking lot where it drove behind a Dumpster. Seltun noticed that a passenger in the front seat was wearing a hat and looking left and right repeatedly as they passed the bank's front entrance.

Seltun said he lost sight of the van, but then saw a man come walking who matched the person in the bank's photo. The man stopped at the bank entrance "and began tampering with the card reader located outside of the doors," the document said.

About 10 seconds later the suspect entered through the secured doors to the ATM. That's when Seltun said he got a phone call from bank security "that the suspect was at the ATM at that moment removing a device from the machine."

Seltun watched the man leave the ATM lobby and walk toward the rear of the building and noticed at the same time that the red van reappeared and was driving toward the suspect, the court document stated. Seltun started following the van just as Secret Service agents approached the van and the suspect, the document stated.

A search of Elekes turned up "a card reader and a long metal strip with two mirrors attached at the ends and wiring along the inside," the court document stated.

The card reader was identical to the reader found outside the secure doors, which allows people to enter the ATM area by requiring customers to swipe their bank card, the document stated.

They were arrested and booked into the jail.

w Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531;