LOS ANGELES—As part of an international law enforcement operation involving Romania, India, and China, federal prosecutors have charged two operators of a United States-based e-mail hacking website, as well as three customers of other hacking websites based in other nations, with computer fraud offenses.
In a series of cases filed in Los Angeles earlier this week, prosecutors charged all five domestic defendants with obtaining unauthorized access to e-mail accounts. All five defendants are expected to plead guilty in the coming weeks.
The domestic cases were announced on Friday after authorities in Romania, India, and the People’s Republic of China arrested six defendants on various computer hacking charges.
The five domestic defendants were charged in four cases filed earlier this week in Los Angeles. One Los Angeles-based defendant is scheduled to make his first appearance in United States District Court this afternoon.
In the first case, Mark Anthony Townsend, 45, of Cedarville, Arkansas; and Joshua Alan Tabor, 29, of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, who operated the e-mail hacking website needapassword.com, each were charged with a felony violation that carries a potential prison sentence of five years. According to court documents, customers of the website operated by Townsend and Tabor provided names of e-mail accounts, and Townsend and Tabor would obtain the passwords to those accounts. The customers made payments into PayPal accounts and nearly 6,000 e-mail accounts were affected by the scheme.
The other three defendants charged this week each face misdemeanor offenses for hiring computer hackers. These customers, who face up to one year in federal prison, are:
- John Ross Jesensky, 30, of Northridge, California, who paid $21,675 to a Chinese website to get e-mail account passwords and who is expected to be in federal court in Los Angeles this afternoon;
- Laith Nona, 31, of Troy, Michigan, who paid approximately $1,081 to get e-mail account passwords; and
- Arthur Drake, 55, of Bronx, New York, who paid approximately $1,011 to get e-mail account passwords.
These charges are the product of an international investigation coordinated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which received the assistance of the United States Air Force/Office of Special Investigations and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. During the investigation, the FBI coordinated with the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIIOCT) and Directorate for Combating Organized Crime (DCCO) of Romania, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of the Republic of India, and the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) in the People’s Republic of China.
In Romania, the DCCO, under the authority of DIICOT, has conducted searches of three residences associated with individuals operating the websites zhackgroup.com, spyhackgroup.com, rajahackers.com, clickhack.com, ghostgroup.org, and e-mail-hackers.com. Four individuals have been charged and detained in connection with the operation of those websites. Approximately 1,600 e-mail accounts were affected by the scheme operated by the subjects in Romania between February 2011 and October 2012.
The Central Bureau of Investigation in India has arrested Amit Tiwari for operating the websites www.hirehacker.net and www.anonymiti.com and conducted searches of the residences of Tiwari and his associates. Operators of the two websites are responsible for obtaining unauthorized access to approximately 935 e-mail accounts (of which 171 belonged to victims in India) between February 2011 and February 2013.
The MPS in China has arrested Ying Liu (劉颖), also known as “Brent Liu,” for operating website hiretohack.net. Liu is responsible for obtaining unauthorized access to approximately 300 e-mail accounts between January 2012 and March 2013.