Threat Management

Manhattan grand jury indicts 17 on ID theft charges

A Manhattan grand jury has returned a 173-count indictment against 17 people accused of running an international cybercrime operation that sold at least 95,000 stolen credit card numbers during a six-year period.

The defendants are affiliated with Western Express International, a one-time New York-based corporation that trafficked at least $4 million in identities in underground forums, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office said in a statement. The owners of the same company were indicted last year on charges of running an illegal check-cashing operation.

The "Western Express Cybercrime Group," the name that authorities gave to the operation, included different individuals, each responsible for either selling large volumes of stolen credit card numbers, providing services to conceal the source and destination of proceeds or laundering the proceeds through digital money transfer systems, such as e-gold and WebMoney.

"That marketplace enabled the defendants to conduct anonymous transactions, via the internet and by other means, using sophisticated payment schemes," Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said in the statement. "The payment schemes were intended to ensure that the participants in the transactions would be impossible to identify, and that the proceeds of their criminal activity would not be traced."

Meanwhile, eight of the defendants are accused of purchasing the stolen credit card numbers to commit identity theft, authorities said.

Each of the 17 defendants was charged with enterprise corruption, a felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

Defendants also were charged with grand larceny, money laundering, criminal possession of stolen property, falsifying business records, criminal possession of a forged instrument, participating in a scheme to defraud, and conspiracy to commit grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.

In February of 2006, the owners of Western Express, Vadim Vassilenko and Yelena Barysheva, and their son, Alexey Baryshev, were indicted on charges of operating an illegal and unlicensed check cashing and money transmittal business. Authorities said the defendants illegally transmitted money and cashed checks for clients in Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European locations.

The Russian couple are in federal prison after pleading guilty in September 2006. Both are awaiting deportation to Russia, but the new charges likely will keep them in federal custody, Barysheva's attorney, Daniel Gotlin, told today.

"I think it's more than suspicious that both of them are paroled or about to leave the country, and now all of  a sudden [Morgenthau] indicts them again," Gotlin said. "It's not as though it's a different thing. It's [the new charges] all based on the same scenario."

He said his client has pleaded innocent, and her husband plans to do the same.

"As far as these other people who are supposed to be involved [with them] in credit card theft and identity theft, they have no idea who those people are," Gotlin said.

Zulfikar Ramzan, senior principal researcher for Symantec Security Response, told today that taking down the ringleaders of organized cybercrime efforts may serve as a deterrent to others.

"A lot of the initial effort for prosecution went after those smaller people because they were easier to catch," he said. "Now the fact that we're able to get bigger fish, so to speak, is a good sign."

Ramzan said he attributes better forensics training to the uptick in criminal apprehensions.

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