Glendale florist pleads no contest

Vahik Ghookasian, 60, was arrested on suspicion of credit card fraud during an early morning raid at his home on 1600 block of Ridgeview Drive in Glendale on Thursday, November 17, 2011. Ghookasian and his wife, Hilda, pleaded no contest Thursday, Dec. 1. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

A Glendale florist and his wife pleaded no contest Thursday to multiple charges of identity theft following accusations that they stole financial information from customers who shopped at their Glenoaks Boulevard shop, officials said.

Vahik Ghookasian and his wife, Hilda, both 60, had originally pleaded not guilty to 14 felony counts of identity theft, but changed their plea in Burbank Superior Court. A no-contest plea is the equivalent of a guilty plea in criminal court, but cannot be used as evidence of liability in a civil trial.

A sentencing date has yet to be scheduled.

The couple were arrested Nov. 17 at their hillside home after detectives discovered several fraudulent charges made to customers’ bank accounts, police said.

Two Glendale residents reported that bogus charges had been made from Oct. 6 to 22 after they shopped at the couple’s store, Daisy Florist.

Detectives also arrested the couple’s son, Peter Ghookasian, but haven’t filed charges against him because they are still investigating him, Police Det. Ralph Garcia said.

Police allegedly found dozens of re-encoded gift cards attached to notes with a handwritten three-digit PIN number in his car.

During a search of the couple’s home, detectives also seized computers, hard drives, blank credit cards, and embossing and printing equipment.

Detectives found a credit card skimming device at the flower shop, police said.

Police said the device was used to copy customers’ bank account information when they swiped their cards for a purchase.

The couple re-encoded the information onto other cards, which they used to buy $1,900 in Visa gift cards at Target stores in Glendale and Burbank, police said.

Detectives say the Ghookasians later bought items at their flower shop using the cards.