YONKERS, N.Y. – Seven Yonkers residents were indicted in connection with a global cyber hacking scheme that netted a gang of hackers $45 million in a matter of hours, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.
In two separate operations, the international crew used sophisticated hacking techniques to access prepaid debit card accounts and drain cash machines on a massive scale, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said.
By manipulating account data and eliminating daily withdrawal limits, the group was able to “withdraw literally unlimited amounts of cash until the operation is shut down.”
Lynch called it a “21st-century bank heist” that reached across the globe.
“In the place of guns and masks, this cybercrime organization used laptops and the Internet,” she said in a statement.
According to the indictment unsealed Thursday the attacks, dubbed by criminals as “Unlimited Operation,” began when the group hacked into the computer systems of a credit card processor.
The first operation, in December, targeted prepaid MasterCard debit cards issued by a bank in the United Arab Emirates. After the hackers gained access to the computer network, “casher cells” across the globe used fake bank cards to coordinate an ATM withdrawal campaign, prosecutors said.
In total, the thieves made 4,500 ATM transactions in approximately 20 countries, withdrawing an estimated $5 million.
Prosecutors said the Yonkers residents were a part of an eight-person, New York-based cell. In just under 2 ½ hours, they hit over 140 different ATM locations in New York City, netting nearly $400,000, the indictment said.
The hackers struck again on Feb. 19 and 20, by breaching a MasterCard system in Oman, but this time with much larger payouts, prosecutors said.
Over the course of approximately 10 hours, cells in 24 countries withdrew an estimated $40 million from ATMs. In New York City, the group was able to rake in roughly $2.4 million after nearly 3,000 withdrawals.
“Moving as swiftly as data over the Internet, the organization worked its way from the computer systems of international corporations to the streets of New York City, with the defendants fanning out across Manhattan to steal millions of dollars from hundreds of ATMs in a matter of hours,” Lynch said.
Following each operation the casher cells began laundering the money, investing money in luxury goods and kicking the money back to crime leaders.
Prosecutors said they caught onto the scheme and with the help of law enforcement agencies in places like Japan, Romania, Italy and Thailand, they began making arrests of the New York cell in March. The last of the seven was arrested Wednesday.
Those arrested include Jael Mejia Collado, 23, Joan Luis Minier Lara, 22, Evan Jose Peña, 35, Jose Familia Reyes, 24, Elvis Rafael Rodriguez, 24, Emir Yasser Yeje, 24, and Chung Yu-Holguin, 22.
All are natives of the Dominican Republic but became citizens of the United States, living in Yonkers. The eighth member and alleged ringleader of the New York operation, Alberto Yusi Lajud-Peña, 23, is reported to have been murdered in the Dominican Republic, prosecutors said.
The investigation into the hackers is continuing on a global scale and more arrests have been made in other countries but prosecutors did not provide additional details.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on each of the money laundering charges and 7 1/2 years on the charge of conspiracy to commit access device fraud. They also face up to $250,000 in fines.