Armed with stolen debit card data from hacked overseas banks, eight Yonkers men plundered millions from ATMs across the New York City area as part of a massive global heist, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Prosecutors in Brooklyn unsealed a four-count indictment charging the suspects with participating in two worldwide cyberattacks that netted $45 million.
The defendants are accused of forming the New York-based cell of an international cybercrime organization that stole MasterCard data from banks in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, eliminated the withdrawal limits on cards and created new access codes. The organization then deployed “casher” cells in two dozen countries to withdraw money rapidly, making 40,500 fraudulent ATM transactions in two attacks in December and February.
The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, Loretta Lynch, called it a “virtual criminal flash mob.”
She said the operatives could use any plastic card to withdraw the cash — an old hotel key card or an expired credit card — as long as they had the account data and correct access codes.
The Yonkers cell alone is accused of stealing $2.8 million in more than 3,000 illegal ATM withdrawals, mainly in Manhattan, during the hours-long sprees.
Its leader, Alberto Yusi Lajud-Pena, also known as “Prime” and “Albertico,” was reportedly murdered in the Dominican Republic on April 27, found dead with a suitcase full of about $100,000.
The seven other suspects, all U.S. citizens originally from the Dominican Republic and living in Yonkers, have been arrested. They are Jael Mejia Collado, 23; Joan Luis Minier Lara, 22; Evan Jose Pena, 35; Jose Familia Reyes, 24; Elvis Rafael Rodriguez, 24; Emir Yasser Yeje, 24; and Chung Yu-Holguin, 22.
Lynch said they all knew each other and were recruited together, as were other cells in other countries. They were charged with conspiracy and money laundering. If convicted, they face 10 years in prison.
One suspect was caught on multiple surveillance cameras, his backpack increasingly loaded down with cash. Others took photos of themselves with giant wads of bills as they made their way up and down Manhattan.
After the money was stolen, much of it was laundered: Nearly $150,000 went into a Miami bank account. Hundreds of thousands more bought luxury goods from Rolex watches to sports cars.
Authorities said they have seized much of the goods, which are now subject to forfeiture. They include a Rolex and $1,200 taken from Pena at the Raceway Diner at 833 Yonkers Avenue, plus another $53,020 and a second Rolex watch he had at a 12 Dalton Road apartment. Authorities also seized $3,740 from a basement apartment at 160 Amackassin Terrace in Yonkers on April 5, 2013.
Pena was arrested April 3, 2013 on a criminal complaint in Yonkers.
Lynch would not say who masterminded the attacks globally, who the hackers are or where they were located, citing an ongoing investigation.
Law enforcement agencies in Japan, Canada, Germany, Romania and 12 other countries have been involved in the investigation, U.S. prosecutors said. Arrests began in March. The investigation into the death of Lajud-Pena, the Yonkers cell’s ringleader, is continuing separately.