NEW YORK — The last of 27 individuals arrested on federal charges pleaded guilty to participating in a bank fraud scheme that used computer software known as "Zeus Trojan" to steal millions of dollars from U.S. bank accounts. This plea follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the New York City Police Department (NYPD), the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), and the United States Secret Service (USSS).
Nikolay Garifulin, 22, of Volgograd, Russia, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and possession of false identification documents. Volgograd allegedly played a significant role in a global bank fraud scheme that used hundreds of phony bank accounts to steal more than $3 million from dozens of U.S. accounts that were compromised by malware attacks.
According to court documents, the cyber-attacks involved in this bank fraud scheme began in Eastern Europe, and included the use of a malware known as the "Zeus Trojan." It was typically sent as a seemingly benign email to computers at small businesses and municipalities in the United States. Once the email was opened, the malware embedded itself in the victims' computers, and recorded their keystrokes – including their account numbers, passwords, and other vital security codes – as they logged into their bank accounts online. The hackers responsible for the malware then used the stolen account information to take over the victims' bank accounts, and made unauthorized transfers of thousands of dollars at a time to receiving accounts controlled by the co-conspirators.
Those receiving accounts were established by a "money mule organization" responsible for retrieving proceeds from malware attacks and transporting or transferring the stolen money overseas. To carry out the scheme, the money mule organization recruited individuals who had entered the United States on student visas, providing them with fake foreign passports, and instructing them to open false-name accounts at U.S. banks. Once these false-name accounts were successfully opened and received the stolen funds from the accounts compromised by the malware attacks, the "mules" were instructed to transfer the proceeds to other accounts, most of which were overseas, or to withdraw the proceeds and transport them overseas as smuggled bulk cash.
As part of the money mule organization, Garifulin collected fraudulently-obtained proceeds that had been withdrawn from the phony accounts and distributed them at the direction of the organization's leader.
Nikolay Garifulin faces a total maximum penalty of 45 years in prison on charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to possess false identification documents.
As a result of this investigation, charges were unveiled against 37 defendants in September 2010. Including Garifulin, 27 defendants have now pleaded guilty in the Southern District of New York (SDNY), two defendants have entered into deferred prosecution agreements, and eight defendants are fugitives and are being sought in the United States and abroad.
In addition to Garifulin, two leaders of the mule organization have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced:
- Kasum Adigyuzelov was sentenced on May 13, 2011, to 48 months in prison.
- Dorin Codreanu was sentenced on July 8, 2011, to 20 months in prison.
Eighteen money mules have also pleaded guilty and have been sentenced:
- Lilian Adam was sentenced on April 28, 2011, to time served after five months and 24 days in prison.
- Konstantin Akobirov was sentenced on March 3, 2011, to eight months in prison.
- Jamal Beyrouti was sentenced on Aug. 4, 2011, to 36 months in prison.
- Natalia Demina was sentenced on Dec. 23, 2010, to time served after four months and 12 days in prison.
- Alexander Fedorov was sentenced on Jan. 5, 2011, to 10 months in prison.
- Adel Gataullin was sentenced on Feb. 16, 2011, to 15 months in prison.
- Ilya Karasev was sentenced on June 24, 2011, to 10 months in prison.
- Alexander Kireev was sentenced on Feb. 14, 2011, to 12 months and one day in prison.
- Yulia Klepikova was sentenced on March 17, 2011, to seven months in prison.
- Maxim Miroshnichenko was sentenced on Feb. 28, 2011, to time served after four months and 29 days in prison.
- Marina Misyura was sentenced on May 25, 2011, to time served after seven months and 25 days in prison.
- Victoria Opinca was sentenced on Jan. 25, 2011, to time served after three months and 26 days in prison.
- Margarita Pakhmova was sentenced on April 5, 2011, to time served after six months and nine days in prison.
- Stanislav Rastorguev was sentenced on July 11, 2011, to 12 months and one day in prison.
- Dmitry Saprunov was sentenced on April 6, 2011, to time served after six months and two days in prison.
- Julia Sidorenko was sentenced on Dec. 9, 2010, to time served after two months and nine days in prison.
- Alina Turuta was sentenced on Feb. 25, 2011, to time served after four months and 26 days in prison.
- Anton Yuferitsyn was sentenced on June 28, 2010, to 11 months in prison.
Six other defendants have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing:
- Ruslan Kovtanyuk pleaded guilty Jan. 7, 2011.
- Sabina Rafikova pleaded guilty Jan. 3, 2011.
- Almira Rakhmatulina pleaded guilty on Sept. 25, 2011.
- Alexander Sorokin pleaded guilty on May 19, 2010.
- Julia Shpirko pleaded guilty Aug. 19, 2011.
- Kristina Svechinskaya pleaded guilty Nov. 19, 2010.