A four-count federal indictment was unsealed in Brooklyn charging eight defendants with participating in two worldwide cyberattacks that inflicted $45 million in losses on the global financial system in a matter of hours.
These defendants allegedly formed the New York-based cell of an international cybercrime organization that used sophisticated intrusion techniques to hack into the systems of global financial institutions, steal prepaid debit card data, and eliminate withdrawal limits. The stolen card data was then disseminated worldwide and used in making fraudulent ATM withdrawals on a massive scale across the globe.
The eight indicted defendants and their co-conspirators targeted New York City and withdrew approximately $2.8 million in a matter of hours. The defendants are charged variously with conspiracy to commit access device fraud, money laundering conspiracy, and money laundering.
Seven of the eight defendants have been arrested on the charges in the indictment: the arrested defendants are Jael Mejia Collado, Joan Luis Minier Lara, Evan Jose Peña, Jose Familia Reyes, Elvis Rafael Rodriguez, Emir Yasser Yeje, and Chung Yu-Holguin, all residents of Yonkers, New York.
The indictment also charges an eighth defendant, Alberto Yusi Lajud-Peña, also known as “Prime” and “Albertico,” who is reported to have been murdered on April 27, 2013, in the Dominican Republic.
The cyberattacks employed by the defendants and their co-conspirators in this case are known in the cyber underworld as “Unlimited Operations” – through its hacking “operation,” the cybercrime organization can access virtually “unlimited” criminal proceeds.
The “Unlimited Operation” begins when the cybercrime organization hacks into the computer systems of a credit card processor, compromises prepaid debit card accounts, and essentially eliminates the withdrawal limits and account balances of those accounts. The elimination of withdrawal limits enables the participants to withdraw literally unlimited amounts of cash until the operation is shut down. These attacks rely upon both highly sophisticated hackers and organized criminal cells whose role is to withdraw the cash as quickly as possible.
According to the government’s filings, between approximately October 2012 and April 2013, the defendants and their co-conspirators conducted two Unlimited Operations.
The first operation, on December 22, 2012, targeted a credit card processor that processed transactions for prepaid MasterCard debit cards issued by the National Bank of Ras Al-Khaimah PSC, also known as RAKBANK, in the United Arab Emirates. After the hackers penetrated the credit card processor’s computer network, compromised the RAKBANK prepaid card accounts, and manipulated the balances and withdrawal limits, casher cells across the globe operated a coordinated ATM withdrawal campaign. In total, more than 4,500 ATM transactions were conducted in approximately 20 countries around the world using the compromised RAKBANK account data, resulting in approximately $5 million in losses to the credit card processor and RAKBANK. In the New York City area alone, over the course of just two hours and 25 minutes, the defendants and their co-conspirators conducted approximately 750 fraudulent transactions, totaling nearly $400,000, at over 140 different ATM locations in New York City.
The second of these Unlimited Operations occurred on the afternoon of February 19 and lasted into the early morning of February 20, 2013. This operation again breached the network of a credit card processor that serviced MasterCard prepaid debit cards, this time issued by the Bank of Muscat, located in Oman. Again, after the cybercrime organization’s hackers compromised Bank of Muscat prepaid debit card accounts and distributed the data, the organization’s casher cells engaged in a worldwide ATM withdrawal campaign. This attack was particularly devastating: Over the course of approximately 10 hours, casher cells in 24 countries executed approximately 36,000 transactions worldwide and withdrew about $40 million from ATMs. From 3 p.m. on February 19 through 1:26 a.m. on February 20, the defendants and their co-conspirators withdrew approximately $2.4 million in nearly 3,000 ATM withdrawals in the New York City area.
As charged in the indictment and other filings, defendant Alberto Yusi Lajud-Peña was the leader of the New York cell of this organization, and in the wake of the charged Unlimited Operations, he and defendants Elvis Rafael Rodriguez and Emir Yasser Yeje laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit cash proceeds. In one transaction alone, nearly $150,000 in the form of 7,491 $20 bills, was deposited at a bank branch in Miami, Florida, into an account controlled by defendant Alberto Yusi Lajud-Peña. Cell members also invested the criminal proceeds in portable luxury goods, such as expensive watches and cars.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment on each of the money laundering charges and 7.5 years on the conspiracy to commit access device fraud charge, restitution, and up to $250,000 in fines. In addition, all property involved in the money laundering offenses and all proceeds of the conspiracy to commit access device fraud are subject to forfeiture.