A lead figure in what's considered to be the largest cyber crime bust in history was sentenced on Tuesday to more than five years in prison.
Nichole Michelle Merzi, 26, of Oceanside, Calif., played an integral part in what authorities code-named “Operation Phish Phry,” an international phishing ring that looted more than $1 million.
Merzi, who has been in custody since she was convicted last year of bank and wire fraud conspiracy, aggravated identity theft, computer fraud conspiracy and money laundering, was found guilty of all charges by a district judge, according to a statement released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The operation was a multinational probe that ended in an indictment in the fall of 2009, leading to charges filed against 100 hackers living in the United States and Egypt on counts of computer fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft.
The two figures at the helm of the operation were Merzi and her then-boyfriend, Kenneth Lucas II, who was sentenced in June of 2011 to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to 49 counts of bank and wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, computer fraud and money laundering conspiracy.
The ringleaders teamed up with cyber criminals in Egypt who hijacked the bank account information from Wells Fargo and Bank of America customers through common phishing techniques. According to the FBI, victims of the scheme would receive emails appearing to be from their banks, and were then redirected to websites that posed as official banking institutions asking for their credentials.
Once the swindlers stole the information, Lucas and Merzi would enlist the help of money mules who would set up bank accounts to receive, store and transfer money overseas and into accounts in Southern California, said the statement.
The investigation was a joint effort led by the FBI, with support from the Social Security Administration's Office of Special Investigations, as well as the Electronic Task Force in Los Angeles.