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Six arrested in $45 million global cybercrime scheme

Charts showing information related to eight members belonging to a New York-based cell of a global cyber criminal organization are displayed
Charts showing information related to eight members belonging to a New York-based cell of a global cyber criminal organization are displayed

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Six people were arrested and charged on Monday for participating in a worldwide ATM heist that stole $45 million from two Middle East banks.

The five men and one woman, all residents of the New York City suburb of Yonkers, were accused of being members of a global cybercrime organization that stole Mastercard Inc debit-card information, according to an announcement from Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for Lynch's office, declined to comment on where the cybercrime organization is based, saying the investigation was ongoing.

The six arrested Monday were "cashers" in the scheme, withdrawing approximately $2.8 million from more than 140 ATMs in New York City, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

The hackers stole debit card data from the National Bank of Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates and Bank Muscat in Oman in two attacks in December 2012 and February 2013, according to prosecutors.

They broke into payment-processing companies used by the two banks and raised the balances and withdrawal limits on the cards, prosecutors said. Crews in more than 20 countries, such as the cell arrested Monday, then withdrew $5 million between December 21 and December 22 and $40 million between February 19 and February 20.

Five of the defendants arrested Monday -- Anthony Diaz, 24; Saul Franjul, 23; Saul Genao, 24; Jaindhi Polanco, 29; and Jose Angeley Valerio, 25 -- pleaded not guilty in federal court in Brooklyn to conspiracy to commit access device fraud. Their lawyers were not immediately available for comment.

A sixth defendant, Franklyn Ferriera, is expected to be arraigned on Tuesday. His age and the identity of his lawyer were not immediately available.

Each faces up to 7.5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to the announcement.

Prosecutors said that days after the February attack, Franjul packed approximately $800,000 in cash into luggage that was sent by bus to one of the heist's organizers, Alberto Yusi Lajud-Pena.

Lajud-Pena, also known as "Prime" and "Albertico," was murdered April 27 in the Dominican Republic.

"After exploiting cyber-weaknesses in the financial system to steal millions from ATMs, these defendants were packing bags to the brim with stolen cash, destined for the cybercriminal organizers of these attacks," Lynch said in a statement on Monday.

The arrests came six months after prosecutors in Brooklyn announced charges against eight others in the scheme, including Lajud-Pena.

Four other defendants have pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme, while three have pleaded not guilty, according to Nardoza.

Authorities in Germany arrested two Dutch citizens in February for their involvement in the scheme after they were caught withdrawing money at cash machines in Dusseldorf.

(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Andrew Hay and Leslie Adler)

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