Citizen with Russia Ties Faces Hacking Charges

Friday, February 10, 2017 @ 05:02 PM gHale

A U.S. citizen with ties to Russia is being held on charges of conspiring with another hacker to steal money from online bank accounts.

Alexander Tverdokhlebov, a Russian-born man, ended up arrested in Los Angeles on charges he stole money from thousands of U.S. bank accounts in a cybercrime career dating back to at least 2008, law enforcement officials said.

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In court papers filed in connection with the February 1 arrest, prosecuting attorneys described Tverdokhlebov as a well-connected member of several elite Russian-speaking cybercrime forums engaged in extensive money laundering services, selling stolen personal data, and malware tools.

The four-count indictment against Tverdokhlebov charges him of using a botnet of around 10,000 infected computers to steal passwords and login credentials to online bank accounts which he and an accomplice, Vadim Polyakov, then used to make fraudulent purchases and illegal withdrawals.

The charges in the indictment pertain specifically to wire fraud the pair is alleged to have engaged in between May 2008 and February 2010. Court papers indicate the government believes Tverdokhlebov was actively engaged in cybercrime activities at least until very recently before his arrest. But the indictment itself makes no mention of what those activities might have been.

Polyakov ended up arrested while vacationing in Spain in 2015 and extradited to the U.S. In 2016, he pleaded guilty to running a scam that fleeced StubHub of over $1 million and was sentenced by a New York court to between four and 12 years in state prison.

After his February 1 arrest, Tverdokhlebov made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Court Judge Patrick Walsh who ordered him released on bond, but the judge stayed the order at the government’s request.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, to where the case has been transferred, argued against Tverdokhlebov’s pretrial release citing serious flight risk concerns.

They noted how during a search of Tverdokhlebov’s residence, law enforcement officials found keys to three bank safe deposit boxes that contained approximately $172,000 in $100 notes. One of Tverdokhlebevo’s partners described the boxes as something he kept aside for a “bad day.”

The “defendant is an extremely sophisticated and well-connected cybercriminal,” prosecutors said in court papers arguing against Tverdokhlebov’s release on bond.

As a member of several influential cybercriminal forums, Tverdokhlebov has access to co-conspirators with the ability and the resources to assist in his flight. “Indeed, a review of Defendant’s affiliations revealed contacts with some of the world’s most notorious cybercriminals,” the government said in its motion.

Though Tverdokhlebov is a U.S citizen, he apparently has little to tie him to the country. He married a U.S. citizen in 2009 and then divorced her shortly thereafter after transferring a large amount of money to her. Most of Tverdokhlebov’s family is still based in Russia, and the only significant tie he has in the U.S. is a relationship with a Russian-born woman based here.

Prosecutors also believe Tverdokhlebov has access to significant amounts of additional funds, and he has carefully laid out plans to evade law enforcement. In conversations he had over ICQ with others, Tverdokhlebov talked about contingency plans in case he ever gets caught, according to prosecutors.

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