A Russian national accused of hacking into dozens of US businesses and stealing millions of dollars worth of credit card information was living the high life before he was arrested in the Maldives by US officials last July, Del Quentin Wilber of Bloomberg reports.
Computer wizard Roman Seleznev — who is currently awaiting trial in Seattle on 40 felony counts of bank fraud, intentionally causing damage to a protected computer, and aggravated identity theft — managed to evade the Secret Service for more than a decade. Russia does not have an extradition treaty with the US, so as long as Seleznev remained on Russian soil, he was safe from US investigators.
The 30-year-old son of prominent Russian lawmaker stole more than 200,000 credit cards under the online pseudonym “Track2” from businesses across the US, including the Phoenix Zoo and a Waterville, Maine jeweler. Stores reportedly suffered a combined financial loss of more than $US1.2 million between 2009-2011, according to the indictment. His schemes are now considered the precursors to the major hacks at Neiman Marcus and Target.
Seleznev drove fancy cars, owned numerous luxury homes, and often took his family on exotic vacations in the Indian Ocean — one of which, to a 5-star, $US1,470 a night resort in the Maldives, proved to be his last.
Bloomberg reports that he Secret Service, closely monitoring Seleznev’s travels, solicited the help of the Maldivian police superintendent (with whom the State Department has a close relationship) in capturing Seleznev before he boarded his flight home to Russia.
Local police were instructed to arrest Seleznev the moment he handed over his passport and transfer him to Secret Service custody. The plan worked, and Seleznev was hustled onto a private jet bound for Seattle where he is now awaiting trial.
Needless to say, the operation outraged the Russian government, who likened the arrest to “kidnapping” and called it “the latest unfriendly action by Washington,” the Moscow Times reported.
“This is not the first time that the U.S. government, ignoring a bilateral agreement on mutual legal cooperation regarding criminal issues, has conducted a literal kidnapping of a Russian citizen,” The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement shortly after Seleznev was detained.
He is currently being held in the SeaTac Federal Detention Center in Seattle, and was kept in isolation in the “special housing unit” until September. But not even solitary confinement could keep him from breaking the rules: in August, Seleznev’s attorney smuggled a cell phone into the prison which Seleznev used to make an unpermitted call, according to Seattle PI.
A few weeks later, prison staff intercepted a message from an “an old communist friend” and associate of Seleznev’s, who warned him that “lawyers are so greedy … they will (expletive) you like a dirty cat.” Seleznev has been provided with a public defender, but prosecutors say he has more than enough money to cover his own legal expenses.
Seleznev’s father has said that Roman will die in custody if he does not receive daily medication for a brain injury he suffered in 2011 when he was vacationing in Marrakech, Morocco. Seleznev faces up to 30 years in prison for the bank fraud charges alone, and an additional 10 years for each charge of identity theft.
“This important arrest sends a clear message,” Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said in a statement.
“Despite the increasingly borderless nature of transitional organised crime, the long arm of justice — and this Department — will continue to disrupt and dismantle sophisticated criminal organisations.”
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