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Crime

Eight accused for alleged role in global cyber heist worth $45 million

Seven men face charges related to a global cyber crime ring that stole $45 million in one of the biggest bank heists in history. The heist is believed to have involved hundreds of people and 27 countries.

Several US citizens were arraigned on Monday on charges stemming from their alleged role in the formation of a New York-based cell of a larger, international cyber crime ring. They face charges of withdrawing cash from ATMs and transporting money, to the tune of $2.4 million.

"In the place of guns and masks, this cyber crime organization used laptops and the Internet," US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch said at a news conference, referring to the crime as a "massive 21st-century bank heist."

One cell in larger ring           

In all, the global crime ring stole $45 million (34.5 million euros) from two Middle Eastern banks by hacking into credit card processing firms and withdrawing money from ATMs in 27 countries, US prosecutors said on Thursday.

US authorities pinpointed eight suspects in New York, all residents of Yonkers, and arrested seven of them. The eighth, allegedly a leader of the New York cell, was reported to have been murdered in the Dominican Republic on April 27.        

The seven facing charges include Jael Mejia Collado, Joan Luis Minier Lara, Evan Jose Peña, Jose Familia Reyes, Elvis Rafael Rodriguez, Emir Yasser Yeje and Chung Yu-Holgui. All of the suspects, apart from Rodriguez, were arraigned on Thursday and pleaded not guilty. The suspect who reportedly had been killed was Alberto Yusi Lajud- Peña.

How it worked

Authorities said the crime ring hacked into the computers of two Mideast credit card processors. One processor was cyber attacked in India in December 2012, and the other, in the United States, was targeted this February.

Once they infiltrated the systems, the hackers allegedly increased the available balance and withdrawal limits on prepaid MasterCard debit cards issued by the Bank of Muscat of Oman and the National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah PSC of the United Arab Emirates.

Counterfeit debit cards were then made and distributed to "cashers" around the world. The cashers, in turn, siphoned millions from ATMs in just a few hours.

As for the New York cell, the suspects are believed to have worked their way around New York on February 19, completing 2,904 withdrawals and walking away with $2.4 million.

Prosecutors said the so-called cashers often launder their proceeds by purchasing luxury goods and sent a portion of the money back to the masterminds.

Lynch said the New York-based suspects kept about 20 percent of the total they stole from ATMs, sending the rest to the organizers. Police seized hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and bank accounts, as well as two Rolex watches and a Mercedes SUV from the New York cell.

Worldwide, some 36,000 ATM transactions resulted in the $45 million heist.

Lynch said that US authorities are looking to see whether other cells of the crime ring are operating in the United States.

She noted that US officials had worked with their counterparts in Japan, Canada, Germany, Romania, the United Arab Emirates, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Latvia, Estonia, Thailand, and Malaysia during the investigation.

Authorities would not say who masterminded the attacks or where they were located because the investiation continues.

tm/ccp (AP, Reuters)