Score another triumph for the government in the chase to catch up with a burgeoning global industry of thieves and scoundrels who have been stealing tens of millions of Americans' credit card data.
Federal marshals escorted a Ukrainian national this week to Las Vegas, where he was arraigned before a U.S. magistrate on charges relating to a worldwide internet marketplace for stolen credit card data and other personal and financial information.
Sergei Litvinenko, 37, was nabbed in an undercover investigation involving multiple federal agencies, the U.S. Secret Service and the bureau of Customs and Immigration Enforcement announced.
He pleaded not guilty to charges of joining dozens of other defendants in a conspiracy to engage in a racketeering organization, known as Carder.su and operating under the alias "Dorbik." U.S. Magistrage Judge Nancy Koope ordered him held without bond.
Just last month, the Justice Department trumpeted the sentencing of Roman Vega, also a Ukrainian national, to 18 years in prison for his role in co-founding the web site CarderPlanet to market stolen credit numbers, of which he held half a million when he was arrested in 2009. Vega was billed as one of the world’s “most prolific cyber criminals.”
The government estimated in July 2011 that the ring in which Litvinenko allegedly operated had set up internet forums that shared stolen data with more than 5,500 members.
A Secret Service spokesman, George Ogilvie, declined to say whether others are in custody as a result of the nearly seven-year-old inquiry that nabbed Litvinenko. The government said the investigation into the ring, which mostly operated from the former Soviet Union, has involved agents and attaches for multiple U.S. investigating agencies in Vienna and Rome, as well as the global police agency Interpol.
The investigation revealed that ring members engaged in large-scale trafficking of compromised credit card account data and counterfeit credit cards, as well as money laundering, narcotics trafficking and various computer crimes, the Secret Service and ICE said.
Those charged allegedly joined in operating an internet web forum where members could purchase illicitly obtained data and swap knowledge of fraud schemes. A second forum was used to screen incoming members, authorities said.
Litvinenko was arrested in Croatia in August of 2012. Last month, a Croatian court cleared the way for his extradition.
He was among 39 defendants indicted by a federal grand jury in Las Vegas in January, 2012. Another 16 defendants have been charged in three different indictments.
Ogilvie declined to say whether the multi-agency investigation is tracking the perpetrators of any of a spate of corporate security breaches that compromised customers' information, the worst having staggered giant retailer Target Corp. over the last couple of weeks.
Target executives have agreed to testify before a congressional panel in early February about the breach that compromised up to 40 million customers' credit and debit card information, and personal information such as home addresses and phone numbers for as many as 70 million more people.