Eight Charged In 'Modern-Day Bank Robberies' Across U.S.

Eight alleged members of an international cybercrime, money laundering and identity theft conspiracy organization were federally charged in New Jersey with a scheme to use information hacked from customer accounts at more than a dozen banks, brokerage firms, payroll processing companies and government agencies, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said. The group attempted to steal at least $15 million from U.S. customers, he added.

Four men were scheduled to appear Wednesday in federal court in Newark, N.J., Fishman said in a statement. The arrests are connected to an international cybercriminal operation from 2011 directed by Oleksiy Sharapka, 33, of Kiev, Ukraine, who reportedly finished an eight-and-a-half year U.S. prison term last year.

At least 15 financial institutions were targeted in the attacks, including Citibank, E-Trade, JP Morgan Chase, PayPal and other firms as well as payroll processor Automated Data Processing (ADP), according to Fishman.

[Related: The 8 Steps Behind The Massive $45M Cyber Bank Heist ]

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"Today's charges and arrests take out key members of the organization, including leaders of crews in three states that used those stolen identities to 'cash out' hacked accounts in a series of internationally coordinated modern-day bank robberies," Fishman said in a statement. "We will continue to pursue our investigation into this scheme and our fight against the rising threat of criminals for whom computers are the weapon of choice."

Sharapka is believed to have been helped by Leonid Yanovitsky, 38, also of Kiev. Oleg Pidtergerya, 49, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Robert Dubuc, 40, of Malden, Mass.; and Andrey Yarmolitskiy, 41, of Atlanta, allegedly managed crews of "money mules" that attempted to drain the bank accounts at ATMs in their respective cities, Fishman said. Richard Gunderson, 46, of Brooklyn, and Lamar Taylor, 37, of Salem, Mass., allegedly worked for Pidtergerya and Dubuc, respectively. Ilya Ostapyuk, 31, of Brooklyn, allegedly facilitated the movement of fraud proceeds.

Two of the men, Taylor and Gunderson, are being pursued by law enforcement, according to Fishman. Sharapka and Yanovitsky, Ukrainian nationals, also remain at large.

Investigators say that the attackers gained unauthorized access to the computer networks of more than a dozen global financial institutions as well as the U.S. Department of Defense and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

Law enforcement officials said the men allegedly diverted money from accounts of the companies' customers to bank accounts and prepaid debit cards controlled by the defendants. The money mules then allegedly attempted to withdraw the stolen funds at ATMs and make fraudulent purchases in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Georgia and elsewhere. The mules would take a small cut and then wire the rest of the funds to Russia and Ukraine where the money allegedly is laundered.

The arrests represent the second such round made by federal authorities in the past two months. In May, investigators arrested seven men in an international operation that bilked $45 million from bank accounts globally.

If convicted, each of the men charged this week face a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison on the conspiracy to commit wire fraud count, 20 years in prison on the conspiracy to commit money laundering count and 15 years in prison on the conspiracy to commit identity theft count. The wire fraud and identity theft counts also carry a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the gross amount of pecuniary gain or loss resulting from the offenses. The money laundering conspiracy count carries a maximum fine of $500,000, or twice the value of the monetary instruments involved.