Card-skimming suspect now will face federal charges

An Issaquah man arrested in Pasco in a bank card-skimming scheme now is facing federal charges after being linked to similar activities in Western Washington.

Mihai Elekes, 35, pleaded innocent Tuesday in Franklin County Superior Court to one count of unlawfully factoring transactions.

But on Wednesday, he was transferred to federal custody and taken to the Yakima County jail. He also made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Yakima, where he had a detention hearing, said defense attorney Scott Johnson.

He is being held without bail and will be transferred to Seattle to appear in federal court there for a bail hearing next week.

Elekes' codefendant, Jonas Chertes, also was in federal court in Yakima on Wednesday, where his hearing was continued after Johnson withdrew as his attorney because of a possible conflict representing Elekes.

Elekes and Chertes, 40, were arrested Aug. 28 in Pasco after being caught removing a card-skimming device from an ATM at a Chase bank on Road 68, officials said.

Card-skimming devices read customers' debit or credit card information when they use the bank machine and are often used with a hidden camera to record people's PIN codes.

The duo is accused of putting the device on the Chase bank machine nine times between July 24 and Aug. 28. Bank officials said 543 accounts were found to have been compromised, but a dollar amount on the loss was not yet known, court documents said.

Elekes now is being charged in federal court with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and two counts of possession of device-making equipment.

Elekes and another man, Ionut Buzbuchi, 55, of Renton, are accused of putting card readers on bank machines beginning in 2009.

Buzbuchi and Elekes, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, are suspected in skimming operations in Idaho, Washington and Arizona, the Seattle Times reported. They are suspected of thefts exceeding $160,000 and face conspiracy charges that carry prison penalties of up to 30 years.

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556;