Up to four years jail time for gang of ATM skimmers

POSTED: 12/13/13 4:26 PM

St. Maarten – The Court in First Instance sentenced yesterday three Canadian men, a Portugese and a Lebanese to prison sentences varying from 30 months to 4 years for skimming ATMS at several banks in Philipsburg, money laundering and membership of a criminal organization.

Christopher Alasmar, 24, received a 4-year prison sentence, the brothers Johnny (27) and George (21) Ghossoub and André Castro da Silva (21) 3 years each and Nabil Najm (25) 30 months.

The skimmers traveled twice in a relatively short period from Canada to St. Maarten. They stayed at the luxurious boutique Hotel Princess Heights in Oyster Pond and shopped for their Lacoste outfits at the West Indies Mall in Marigot.

Alasmar claimed that he had traveled to St. Maarten with $7,000 of his own money and that he has lost $2,000 of it in a local casino. During a search of their rooms at Princess Heights officers found $60,000 hidden in different places.

Between April 26 and May 30 of this year, the skimmers hit ATMs of the Windward Islands Bank, the Royal Bank of Canada and the Scotiabank multiple times.

The thefts did not go unnoticed at the Windward Islands Bank where security staff identified the men on video footage. Police managed to arrest them at a gas station on the Airport Boulevard and collect further evidence against them from a search at their apartment at Princess Heights.

The Ghossoub brothers and Najm – all restaurant managers by profession – told the court in November that they had bought the forged bankcards from a website for $2,000.

The court dismissed all technical defense arguments from attorney Cor Merx, who had among other things, noted that there was no court order to take possession of the video footage from the Windward Islands Bank. The court ruled that the bank had made this material available voluntarily. Merx also contested the lawfulness of the search at his clients’ room, but the court ruled that there are no grounds for the idea that the officers violated the rules.

Within six weeks, the group traveled twice to St. Maarten from Canada. One gang member booked the tickets and the hotel rooms for everyone. During both periods the defendants were on island forged bank cards were found in the ATMs of the Windward Islands Bank; they were identical to cards officers found during the search of the hotel rooms. During the last trip one defendant rented four different cars; in one of these vehicles officers found a large amount of money. Video footage shows that the men pulled pinned on occasion several times in a row at the same ATM.

The court dismissed Alasmar’s claim that he intended to take a “sky beach concept” back to Canada as an idea for a business and that he needed to keep $5,000 apart for this purpose. The court did not find this claim credible.

Alasmar received the highest sentence because he was sentenced before for similar crimes in Canada. This is not the case for the Ghossoub brothers and for defendant Najm and therefore their sentence is one year less. From the court ruling it is not immediately clear why the fifth defendant, André Castro da Silva received a lower sentence of 30 months.

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