One of the defendants in the massive criminal case against the cybercrime syndicate known as Carder.su pleaded guilty in federal court Monday on the day he was to stand trial.
Alexander Kostyukov, 29, of Miami, acknowledged in court that he was part of the Russian-based syndicate federal prosecutors alleged caused more than $50.5 million in financial losses worldwide through a massive racketeering and identity theft scheme.
Kostyukov pleaded guilty to one count of participation in a racketeering organization, one count of conspiracy to engage in a racketeering organization and three counts of trafficking in and production of false identification documents.
“He took responsibility for his role in this, but he strongly disagrees with the government’s assessment of the losses,” Kostyukov’s lawyer, Todd Leventhal, said afterward.
For that reason, Kostyukov pleaded guilty to the five felony charges without a plea agreement, Leventhal said.
Kostyukov will have a chance to argue the financial losses attributed to him at his March 27 sentencing before U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon.
Co-defendant, David Camez, 22, of Phoenix, is now standing trial before Gordon without Kostyukov. A jury was chosen late Monday and opening statements were expected Tuesday.
Millions of Americans and numerous financial institutions were victimized by the Carder.su syndicate and its more than 7,800 members, federal prosecutors have alleged in court documents.
Tens of millions of dollars in financial fraud each year were attributed to the group of sophisticated criminals, who found Las Vegas an ideal place to operate.
Carder.su hosted exclusive websites from Russia, where its international members could come together in an online marketplace to buy and sell stolen identity information and phony credit cards and driver’s licenses and learn how to carry out an array of high-tech fraud schemes, prosecutors have alleged.
In early 2012, the Nevada U.S. attorney’s office obtained four separate indictments charging 55 members and associates, including the group’s Russian leaders, in the sweeping racketeering conspiracy.
The case is considered the first time federal prosecutors have used racketeering statutes to go after a cybercrime syndicate. The Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Gang Section in Washington is assisting in the prosecution.
The indictments were the result of a 4½-year investigation, code-named “Operation Open Market,” which took off after Michael Adams, a U.S. Secret Service agent based in Las Vegas, went undercover and infiltrated the secretive organization.
Adams, now an agent with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, assumed the online nickname, “Celtic,” of a man arrested here in a credit card fraud scheme in 2007, and with the man’s cooperation ended up becoming a trusted member of Carder.su. The agent in his undercover capacity was a “vendor” within the group who sold phony driver’s licenses.
Some of the defendants were charged with using fake credit cards to unlawfully obtain tens of thousands of dollars from casinos in Las Vegas and Connecticut.
Among those charged in the case were the group’s alleged leaders, Roman Zolotarev and Konstantin Lopatin, who were identified in the indictment by their online nicknames, “Admin”and “Graf,” respectively. A third leader, identified by his nickname Maxxtro, also was among those indicted.
Many of the defendants, including the leaders, are still at large. Several defendants were charged as John Does because authorities were unable to identify them through the maze of online transactions monitored during the undercover investigation. Everyone within the cybercrime syndicate used nicknames to hide their real identities from law enforcement authorities. Face-to-face business dealings were rare.
Eight defendants have pleaded guilty, and others are awaiting trial in February.
Contact reporter Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135. Follow him on Twitter @JGermanRJ.