Federal prosecutors have thrown the book at a Russian hacker recently convicted of stealing between 1.7 – 2.9 million credit cards and causing what could end up amounting to billions of dollars of fraud losses. On Friday, a federal judge sentenced Roman Seleznev to an unprecedented 27 years in prison. Seleznev is the son of prominent Russian lawmaker and “close political ally” to Vladimir Putin Valery Seleznev according to the New York Times.
The 27-year sentence is the longest in U.S. history related to hacking and comes due to his part in an enormous personal identity and credit card theft scheme that targeted over 500 businesses around the world and over 3,700 financial institutions. Seleznev, known as “Track2” in the hacking world, was convicted of hacking into the accounts of everything from pizza shops to banks, causing damages that currently sit at $170 million dollars and rising, possibly into the billions.
Authorities scored a major win in tracking down Seleznev after receiving a tip that he would be taking a vacation with his girlfriend to the Maldives. As Seleznev landed at the Maldives airport, Secret Service officers placed him under arrest. He was then transported to Guam and eventually to a federal prison in Washington state — many of the businesses affected by Seleznev were in Seattle. Upon Seleznev’s conviction, prosecutors didn’t hold back their joy of having shut down one of the biggest hackers to ever exist, The New York Times reports:
“Simply put, Roman Seleznev has harmed more victims and caused more financial loss than perhaps any other defendant that has appeared before the court,” federal prosecutors said in their sentencing memorandum. “This prosecution is unprecedented.”
During the trial, prosecutors laid down a treasure trove of evidence that painted Seleznev as a criminal mastermind hell-bent on selling millions of credit cards on the internet. According to KOMO news reporter Jennifer Sullivan, Seleznev was “revered” in the world of Russian cybercrime and was compared to “a Tony Soprano style mob boss.” Following his arrest, police were able to uncover a variety of photos of Seleznev living the life of luxury. This includes stacks of cash, sports cars, luxury vacations, all signs the Russian hacker had been living the life of a start-up billionaire. As seen in photographs shared by Sullivan, it is clear that Seleznev even had a painting made of himself.
Seleznev attempted to lessen his sentence during the trial by writing a letter to the court admitting that he had made “poor life choices,” while his attorney tried to explain his client headed down the wrong path after the death of his mother and an injury sustained in a suicide blast that resulted in the loss of half his skull. Prosecutors were having none of it, however, as they pushed forward the fact that Seleznev was fully capable of knowing right and wrong, yet continued to hack accounts until the day he was caught according to the The New York Times:
This is a man with extraordinary computer abilities and cunning business acumen who has chosen to return to cybercrime again and again, each time increasing the scope of his criminal enterprise and the magnitude of its damage,” prosecutors wrote in a memo, asking for a 30-year sentence.
Following his conviction, Seleznev’s lawyer, Igor Litvak, plans to file an appeal, labeling the record sentence as the result of “politics.” This seems to echo similar sentiments from the Russian media, with Litvak believing that Seleznev’s conviction, and the subsequent record harsh penalty, are the trickle down effect resulting from tensions between the United States and Russia according to NBC News:
“Some kind of politics is involved in this case,” Litvak added. “I think the government is trying to make an example of him. It has something to do with the recent tensions between U.S. and Russia.”
Seleznev’s father has accused the United States of kidnapping his son according to the New York Times and even went so far as to discuss escapes with his son while visiting him in prison according to the LA Times:
Speaking in Russian, Seleznev’s father asked, “What can we discuss, your escape plan or what?”
They went on to chat about tampering with a witness and delaying a hearing by staging a medical emergency, according to prosecutors and a transcript of the call.
His father said he had “found some ‘magicians’” who were “ready to create a miracle” leading to a fake illness and his son’s hospitalization. But with the feds tipped off, the plan never took off.
Despite the claims from those in Russia, the feeling from authorities was celebratory and US Attorney Annette Hayes spiked the football in a statement:
Today is a bad day for hackers around the world… The notion that the Internet is a Wild West where anything goes is a thing of the past. As Mr. Seleznev has now learned, and others should take note—we are working closely with our law enforcement partners around the world to find, apprehend, and bring to justice those who use the internet to steal and destroy our peace of mind.