KANARRAVILLE — A traffic stop on Interstate 15 Saturday evening led the Utah Highway Patrol to arrest three men on felony fraud and drug charges — charges requiring the attention of the Secret Service and the State Bureau of Investigation.
Shortly before 8 p.m., the St. George Communications Center received a report of a reckless driver traveling northbound on I-15 near mile marker 49 in a black Chevy Suburban. UHP trooper Bambi Baie located the vehicle and followed it for a distance, said UHP Public Affairs Officer Jesse Valenzuela.
“The vehicle was swerving within its lane,” Valenzuela said. “The driver admitted that he was tired and not driving normally.”
UHP pulled the Suburban over. Three men, all from California, were in the vehicle and were later identified as Loris Gharibian, 30, Karapet Barutyan, 29, and Hamlet Tantushyan, 30. During the stop, UHP became suspicious of criminal activity.
“Their stories weren’t matching up,” UHP Lt. Steven Esplin said. “They were questioned and their answers didn’t match.”
UHP requested a canine unit, Valenzuela said. The dog’s response to the vehicle indicated illegal substances were inside. Upon investigation, some personal use marijuana was found.
“There was enough marijuana to make it a felony charge,” Esplin said. “Anything over a pound but less than 100 pounds is considered a felony.”
After searching the vehicle, UHP was unconvinced that the small amount of marijuana was the only thing the individuals were concealing, Esplin said, so the vehicle was relocated to the UHP Office in Cedar City, where a more thorough search and investigation were conducted.
“Hidden behind the molding of the left rear quarter panel was a black plastic bag,” Valenzuela said. “Inside this plastic bag were some skimmer devices and some plastic gloves.”
Skimmers are electronic devices that can be attached to debit or credit card machines at gas stations or retail stores, Esplin said. The devices skim the magnetic strips and pin numbers of cards and save the information; copies of the cards are then made and can be used anywhere.
“They’ll do a forensics sweep on them,” Esplin said. “There will be an electronic trace and detectives may be able to see who has been skimmed.”
This incident remains under investigation by State Bureau of Investigation detectives.
Because the skimming devices involve money, the charges fall under the Treasury Department, which is federal and involves the Secret Service, Esplin said.
Gharibian, Barutyan and Tantushyan were arrested and booked into the Iron County Jail.
Gharibian was charged with three third-degree felonies for possession of a forgery writing device, one third-degree felony for possession of marijuana, one class-B misdemeanor for possession of a controlled substance, one class-B misdemeanor for possession of paraphernalia, and one class-C misdemeanor for a charge that was unspecified on the bookings information as of this publication.
Barutyan was charged with three third-degree felonies for possession of a forgery writing device, one third-degree felony for marijuana possession and one class-B misdemeanor for possession of paraphernalia.
Tantushyan was charged with three third-degree felonies for possession of a forgery writing device, one third-degree felony for marijuana possession and one class-B misdemeanor for possession of paraphernalia.
According to bookings information accessed on Sunday, each man’s bail stands at $15,000.
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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