Touch DNA forensic technology used to nab gas station skimmer crook

LARGO, Fla. (WFLA) — Using incredible technology to track invisible DNA, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and Largo Police Department were able to catch an alleged crook accused of installing skimming devices at Largo gas pumps.

A simple touch of the hand proved to be the exact road map Pinellas County authorities needed to link skimmers found at a 7/11 gas station in Largo to 35-year-old Rafael De Los Rios, accused of trying to cheat customers out of cash.

Skin cells proved to be the last puzzle piece in this arrest.

“Some people just leave more skin cells that others,” Janel Borries said. Borries is the assistant lab director for the Pinellas County Forensics Laboratory.

RELATED: Skimmers found at the following Tampa Bay area gas stations

The lab is one of the only places in Florida that uses touch DNA to solve non-violent crimes.

“Typically, if somebody has touched something for the appropriate length of time depending on their chemistry, as long as that right area is swabbed, I have the opportunity to develop the DNA profile,” Borries explained.

 Rafael De Los Rios
Rafael De Los Rios

This all began in January when gas pump technicians and employees noticed remnants of two gas skimmers in Largo. Lt. Paul Amodeo with the Largo Police Department said the skimmer was locked inside the gas pump. “We were able to retrieve those items, those devices and submit them to the Pinellas County Forensic Laboratory,” he said.

It usually takes 27 days for the lab to get results.


The skimming devices were swabbed for DNA, and a profile was created and punched into CODIS, the FBI’s national database. “What that database allows us to do is to match up that crime scene profiles to hopefully a convicted offender profile,” Borries said.

It was a direct hit.

When detectives interviewed De Los Rios, he had no explanation as to why his DNA was on the skimmers. He had never worked for 7/11 or the company that services the pumps.

Many components must align for touch DNA arrests to be made, so in this case, De Los Rios might just want to blame science.

“The amount of skin cells that are deposited on something, there are so many different factors that contribute to how much is left,” Borries said.

“It’s touch DNA. It’s amazing stuff. It’s probably a big part of the future of law enforcement. It makes it more difficult for criminals,” Lt. Amodeo said about the technology.

De Los Rios was arrested on April 25 but bonded out of jail early Tuesday morning. The crime he is charged with, use of a scanning device to defraud, is a felony.

On Tuesday News Channel 8 went to the suspect’s home. His mother told us she didn’t know about his arrest.


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