And a few handy men

The eight who were caught were lowly operators awe-struck by own fortune and indiscreet enough to show it

Written by New York Times | New York | Published:May 14, 2013 3:54 am

The eight who were caught were lowly operators awe-struck by own fortune and indiscreet enough to show it

Three worked as bus drivers for special-needs children,two worked at a Kmart,and another delivered pizza for Domino’s.

A majority had gone to high school together and,for the most part,they seemed like just another group of men who did little to stand out in their working-class neighbourhood in Yonkers,New York.

But around Christmas,something changed. They flaunted Rolex watches,drove new luxury cars and took off on trips to Miami.

The eight young men,according to law enforcement officials,had just pulled off the first of two series of thefts that would ultimately rank among the biggest in New York City history,

successful beyond their wildest hopes.

In all,they are accused of stealing $2.8 million. But,the authorities charge,they were just a small piece of a global ring that executed one of the best-coordinated crimes of the Internet age,looting $45 million from ATMs around the world,using data stolen from prepaid debit card accounts,all in a matter of hours.

Despite the sophistication of the crime,the men from Yonkers seemed genuinely awe-struck by their good fortune,according to a law

enforcement official.

Alberto Yusi Lajud-Pena,who is believed to have been the leader of the crew,fled to the Dominican Republic and quickly bought a pickup truck as he started spending what apparently was his share of the take.

He was killed last month,the victim of a botched robbery devised by his in-laws,according to local law enforcement officials. And the splurges on luxury goods by other members of the crew—many documented in photographs snapped on their cellphones—helped build the prosecutors’ case against them.

After the scope and details of the crime became public with the unsealing of an indictment in Brooklyn,bank managers flooded the authorities with worried calls,and anyone with a bank card was left to wonder how safe their savings were.

But most of the New York crew members seemed to be unaware of the dimensions of their crime,said officials.

Investigators around the world are still working to identify members of the network and to determine how it was organised and how its participants were recruited. In court documents,investigators point to an email between Lajud and an organisation in Russia known to be involved in money laundering.

They also cite a trip three of the men made to Bucharest on January 9—19 days after the first $5 million was withdrawn from 4,500 ATMs. The plane tickets,according to court documents,were bought in cash after American Airlines cancelled the original reservation,suspecting a stolen credit card had been used to book the flight.

The Secret Service was alerted soon after the ATMs were drained in December. The authorities seized bank surveillance video of the withdrawals by “cashing crews” in New York and elsewhere,leaving investigators thousands of hours of footage to review.

But after crews in about 24 countries struck again February 19,stealing $40 million in more than 36,000 ATM transactions,the authorities in New York were able to start matching faces from the two series of thefts. The cashing crews largely targeted machines at big banks,rather than at convenience stores,because they allow

larger withdrawals.

In the December and February thefts,hackers obtained account information from bank card processing companies,then raised withdrawal limits. Crews then encoded the information on cards with magnetic strips and used them at the ATMs.

The men arrested as part of the New York crew are Jael Mejia Collado,23; Joan Luis Minier Lara,22; Evan Jose Pena,35; Jose Familia Reyes,24; Rodriguez,24; Emir Yasser Yeje,24; and Chung Yu-Holguin,22. Only Evan Pena has been in prison before,on a drug conviction.

Lajud,the suspected ringleader,arrived in the Dominican Republic around April 11,according to friends and relatives. He split time between Santiago,his birth city,and San Francisco de Macoris,the nearby city where his wife lived. His wife’s cousins,with whom Lajud and his wife lived after he arrived,realised that he had come into a large amount of money and orchestrated a plan to rob him,local

prosecutors said.

On April 27,Lajud was playing dominoes with his wife’s cousins. In the bedroom lay an envelope filled with $100,000,along with an M-16 machine gun,a 9 mm Smith & Wesson pistol,a .22-caliber Ruger handgun and boxes of ammunition,the police said.

When two hooded men entered the home,Lajud drew a .45-caliber Glock pistol but was shot five times. The hooded men and wife’s cousins fled,leaving the cash.

MARC SANTORA

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