A Texas police department backtracked on claims it made earlier that it had arrested a man believed to be linked to the massive Target data breach, issuing a statement that said "it is not believed he was responsible" for the information heist.
The Georgetown, Texas police department initially said in a court affidavit signed this week that Guo Xing Chen, 40, may have been involved in the December swiping of customer records from the retail giant.
"It is also believed Chen is involved in a large scale credit breach believed to be in excess of $70 million according to investigators from the Target Corp.,'' according to the affidavit, obtained by KVUE-TV, Austin, Texas, and USA TODAY.
But the department took a step back from the claim in a statement to the press issued Wednesday evening.
"While it was initially suspected that Guo Xing Chen's activities could have somehow been connected to the larger Target credit breach, at this time there is no indication where he obtained the fraudulent card information," the statement said. "It is not believed he was responsible for the initiation of the breach at Target."
Over the holiday shopping season, in a massive cybercrime discovered by Target in mid-December, 40 million customers had their credit and debit card data stolen. In January, the retail giant said that information including e-mail addresses and phone numbers may have been swiped from an additional 70 million customers.
Kirsten Blair, answering phones Wednesday evening at the Georgetown Police Department, said she had no information on the arrest but expected a statement to be issued later.
A lawyer listed as representing Chen, Abby Alford, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The complaints charge Chen with credit card or debit card abuse, and fraudulent use or possession of identifying information, both felonies.
The felony criminal complaint and affidavit asserts that police arrested Chen after being called to a Target store in Georgetown, Texas, on a report that a man had used a stolen credit or debit card to purchase gift cards. It said officers learned Chen had an outstanding arrest warrant from Arkansas involving fraudulent use or possession of identifying information. Georgetown is a city of about 50,000 residents 30 miles north of Austin.
Aside from the statement asserting a link to the massive Target data breach, a pair of affidavits naming Chen describe police officers' physical pursuit of the suspect after responding Dec. 12, 2013, to the call from the Target store for fraudulent use of a credit or debit card.
It says that in responding to the call from the Target store, officers were told "the same subject had used several stolen credit/debit cards the previous day at a Target store in nearby Temple,'' Texas, another 40 miles away.
It quoted a Target employee as telling officers that the suspect purchased $700 in gift cards using credit or debit cards issued to another name, that of a woman.
Police said in the affidavit that they learned a Target store in nearby Round Rock, Texas, — between Georgetown and Austin — had been victimized in a similar manner the same day.
A store employee identified the suspect in a car in a parking lot outside the Georgetown Target store, and officers later located a man matching the description entering a Starbucks coffee shop, police said. He appeared to have discarded some clothing while in the coffee shop, suggesting an attempt to avoid recognition by officers.
Officers later recovered several credit or debit cards that had been left in the bathroom of a restaurant, Firehouse Subs, where an employee told officers the suspect and another man had also visited, the affidavit said.
Contributing: William M. Welch in Los Angeles; Kevin McCoy in New York; and KVUE-TV in Austin, Texas.