Posts with «crime & justice» label

Judge dismisses indictment against Huawei exec Meng Wanzhou

More than four years after her arrest, the drawn-out legal saga of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou came to a formal end this week. On Friday, US District Judge Ann Donnelly dismissed an indictment against Meng, according to Reuters. On behalf of the US, Canadian authorities arrested Meng in 2018 for allegedly violating American sanctions against Iran. Meng, who is also the daughter of Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, spent the next three years fighting attempts to extradite her to the US, where she faced up to 30 years in prison for bank and wire fraud charges. Donnelly dismissed the indictment “with prejudice,” meaning the Justice Department can’t bring the same charges against Meng again.

Before entering into an agreement with US prosecutors last year, Meng spent three years under house arrest. The detainment strained relationships between the United States and China and led to an international incident. China apprehended two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, within days of Meng’s arrest. They were later released after Meng entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department. As part of the agreement, she acknowledged having made false statements about Huawei’s business in Iran. Meng flew home to China the day Donnelly approved the pact.

Huawei and its subsidiaries are still facing charges in the US. Most notably, the Justice Department recently announced charges against two Chinese spies who had allegedly tried to interfere in a criminal investigation into the company. Earlier this week, the FCC also banned telecom and video surveillance equipment from Huawei, among a handful of other Chinese companies. Meng currently serves as the company's rotating chairperson and deputy chairwoman, as well as CFO. 

Crypto cammer faces 18 months in prison over $22 million SIM attack

A young man is facing time behind bars for his role in a high-profile crypto scam. Bloombergreports a federal judge has sentenced 25-year-old Nicholas Truglia to 18 months in prison for allegedly taking part in a scheme that stole $22 million in cryptocurrency from blockchain adviser Michael Terpin in 2018. The perpetrators are said to have asked Truglia to convert Triggers tokens stolen from Terpin into Bitcoin after breaching the consultant's phone.

Truglia has been described as a member of a larger criminal group that relied heavily on SIM swapping, or transferring victim phone numbers to SIM cards under attackers' control, to rob crypto industry personalities. Terpin accused a New York State teen of leading the group following a private investigation and successfully recouped some of his losses. The teen pointed to Truglia and two other people as accomplices.

Truglia is the only person in the group subject to criminal charges, and is already facing civil penalties near $80 million for his alleged involvement. The relatively light sentence appears to have been influenced by Truglia's autism, which defense attorney Jeffrey Udell claimed made it harder to understand the real-world consequences of the theft.

This is far from the largest crypto heist in recent memory. State-backed hackers and online gangs have been linked to thefts worth hundreds of millions of dollars from the blockchain. The length of the sentence is unlikely to deter others, for that matter. However, the sentencing theoretically sends a message that aiding crypto thieves is still a serious crime.

How Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes was sentenced to 11 years in prison

More than seven years after the first Wall Street Journal story about problems with Theranos’ blood tests, its founder, Elizabeth Holmes, was sentenced to over a decade in prison for defrauding the company’s investors. She had been found guilty on four counts of fraud during a months-long trial where her lawyers argued that she was an inexperienced entrepreneur who hadn’t intended to mislead anyone.

Holmes’ story is, by now, well known. She founded Theranos as a college dropout, raising hundreds of millions of dollars from high-profile investors and courting former high-ranking government officials for her board. Since then, the rapid rise and downfall of Holmes and Theranos has taken on a life of its own, with major podcasts, books and a recent Hulu miniseries.

But Holmes herself has been almost completely silent. Her trial, where she testified in her own defense, and her sentencing are the only times she has spoken publicly about what went wrong at Theranos and how she feels all these years later. Watch the video above for the full story.

Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years in prison on fraud charges

Elizabeth Holmes, the former CEO and founder of Theranos, has been sentenced to just over 11 years in prison for defrauding the investors of her blood testing startup. The sentence comes almost a year after Holmes was found guilty on four counts of fraud following a months-long trial.

Prosecutors had pushed for a 15-year sentence, while Holmes’ attorneys argued she should get no more than 18 months of house arrest. Her probation officer had recommended nine years, according to The New York Times.

Throughout the trial, Holmes’ lawyers tried to portray the Theranos founder as a young and inexperienced entrepreneur who hadn’t intended to deceive investors or the public. During her testimony, Holmes blamed many of Theranos’ problems on others at the company, including her former partner Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani.

She also testified that Balwani was abusive during their romantic relationship, and that he had misled her about what was happening in Theranos’ lab. Balwani, who as COO also oversaw day-to-day operations of the company’s lab, was found guilty on 12 counts of fraud in a separate trial earlier this year. His sentencing is due in December.

Even at her sentencing, Holmes proved she still has influential allies to defend her. Several Silicon Valley investors, including early Theranos backer Tim Draper, wrote letters of support urging the judge for a lighter sentence. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker also wrote in her support, asking the judge for “a fair and just sentence.”


Feds charge Russians linked to the 'world's largest' pirated e-book library

US law enforcement isn't just interested in shutting down video pirates. The feds have charged two Russian nationals, Anton Napolsky and Valeriia Ermakova, for allegedly running the pirate e-book repository Z-Library. The site was billed as the "world's largest library" and held over 11 million titles, many of which were bootleg versions stripped of copyright protections.

The pair was arrested in Cordoba, Argentina at the US' request on November 3rd. The American government disabled and seized the public Z-Library site at the same time. Napolsky and Ermakova each face charges of copyright infringement, money laundering and wire fraud.

As TorrentFreakexplains, it's not clear how central Ermakova and Napolsky were to Z-Library. While the indictments only cover activity starting in January 2018, FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael Driscoll said the two had been running a pirate site for "over a decade." Z-Library is still accessible on the dark web and responding to email.

The pirate bookshelf's social media presence contributed to its undoing. Ars Technicanotes The Authors Guild complained to the Office of the United States Trade Representative after a "#zlibrary" hashtag started trending on TikTok, with over 19 million views. Students and other users were touting Z-Library as a way to get textbooks and other course material for free.

As with many pirate site shutdowns, this isn't likely to be a permanent blow. The Authors Guild pointed to alternatives like Libgen when it filed its complaint, and Z-Library itself is carrying on in a limited form. It's a high-profile victory for the anti-piracy camp, however, and suggests that other digital book pirates could face similar legal action.

Alleged LockBit ransomware gang member arrested in Canada

Authorities in Canada have arrested an alleged member of the LockBit ransomware gang, according to the Department of Justice. Mikhail Vasiliev, a dual Russian-Canadian citizen, is awaiting extradition to the US, where he is charged with conspiracy to intentionally damage protected computers and to transmit ransom demands. Vasiliev faces a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000 if he is convicted.

According to the complaint, the LockBit ransomware first emerged around January 2020, and the FBI has been investigating those behind it since March of that year. The DOJ claims LockBit is "one of the most active and destructive ransomware variants in the world," having claimed at least 1,000 victims, including a Holiday Inn hotel in Turkey. The agency added that members of the LockBit gang have demanded at least $100 million in total ransom payments. The gang has claimed tens of millions of dollars from victims, according to the DOJ.

“This arrest is the result of over two-and-a-half years of investigation into the LockBit ransomware group, which has harmed victims in the United States and around the world,” deputy attorney general Lisa O. Monaco said in a statement. “Let this be yet another warning to ransomware actors: working with partners around the world, the Department of Justice will continue to disrupt cyber threats and hold perpetrators to account. With our partners, we will use every available tool to disrupt, deter and punish cyber criminals.”

Feds charge former MoviePass execs with securities and wire fraud

The former executives in charge of MoviePass have been indicted in what the Justice Department calls "a scheme to defraud investors." Ex-MoviePass CEO J. Mitchell Lowe and Theodore Farnsworth, who used to be the chairman of the service's former parent company Helios and Matheson Analytics (HMNY), have been charged with one count of securities fraud and three counts of wire fraud. Federal authorities accuse them of making materially false and misleading claims regarding MoviePass' business in press releases, interviews and even SEC filings in a bid to artificially inflate HMNY's stocks and entice new investors. 

According to the newly unsealed court documents, Farnsworth and Lowe allegedly knew from the start that the business' $9.95 "unlimited" plan was a temporary gimmick to attract new subscribers and, hence, artificially inflate HMNY's stock prices. They also falsely claimed that the business model was tested to be sustainable and that it was possible to become profitable on subscription fees alone, the feds said. 

In addition, the executives allegedly claimed that HMNY had "big data" and AI technologies that could be used to generate revenue for the company by analyzing data collected from MoviePass subscribers. The indictment accuses them of making the claim even though they knew that HMNY did not have the technology or the capability to monetize subscriber data. 

Another allegation against the executives is that they'd made false representations that MoviePass was earning considerable money from multiple revenue streams. The business did not have a non-subscription revenue stream that would make it self-sufficient or offset its losses, according to authorities. Farnsworth and Lowe were also accused of implementing various tactics to prevent certain subscribers from being able to use their "unlimited" service. If you'll recall, MoviePass had to settle with the FTC in 2021 over allegations that it invalidated subscriber passwords on purpose to give it sufficient reason to freeze accounts of frequent users. 

In a statement made to The Verge, the spokesperson for Farnsworth said: "The indictment repeats the same allegations made by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the Commission's recent complaint filed on September 27th against Mr. Farnsworth, concerning matters that were publicly disclosed nearly three years ago and widely reported by the news media. As with the SEC filing, Mr. Farnsworth is confident that the facts will demonstrate that he has acted in good faith, and his legal team intends to contest the allegations in the indictment until his vindication is achieved."

The SEC sued MoviePass for fraud back in September and also accused the executives of misleading investors about the viability of the company's $9.95-per-month business model. Despite its tumultuous past and all the accusations the former people in charge still have to face, MoviePass is back. Stacy Spikes, its original co-founder, purchased it back after HMNY filed for bankruptcy. The service relaunched in September 5th and now charges subscribers $10 a month for up to three movies, $20 a month for up to four and $30 for a maximum of five movies a month. 

As for Farnsworth and Lowe, they're now facing a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each count of securities and wire fraud.

The NYPD is joining Ring's neighborhood watch app amid privacy and racial profiling concerns

One of the most recognizable police forces is joining Ring's Neighbors app. The New York Police Department has announced that it will participate in Ring's neighborhood watch tool. Officers won't look for posts "around the clock," but they will respond to users' crime and safety concerns, post notices and ask for help with "active police matters."

The move potentially gives the NYPD another way to interact with the community. It may also obtain footage of criminal activity that it wouldn't otherwise have, with maps and timelines that could help pinpoint crime sprees and trends.

There's already opposition to the NYPD's participation, however. The New York-based Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) is concerned support for Neighbors will lead to more police violence, racial profiling and vigilantes. The technology "isn't keeping people safe" and even puts people in danger, Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn claims. He cites an incident in October where a father and son shot at a woman in response to a Ring doorbell notification. The woman delivered a package sent to the wrong address.

Ring has previously stressed that device users aren't required to share footage, and it has addressed some worries about enabling police surveillance by requiring public, narrowly focused requests within 12 hours of incidents. There are still fears Ring cameras and doorbells are collecting footage of innocent passers-by, though, and that Neighbors users may be racially biased when reporting suspicious behavior. The company has also grappled with a number of security flaws, including a bug that exposed precise locations.

Former Apple employee admits to defrauding the company out of $17 million

A former Apple employee has pled guilty to defrauding the company out of over $17 million. Dhirendra Prasad, who spent most of his decade at Apple working as a buyer in the Global Service Supply Chain department, admitted to "taking kickbacks, inflating invoices, stealing parts and causing Apple to pay for items and services never received,” according to the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California. Prasad started these schemes in 2011 and continued them until 2018. 

In one scam, Prasad shipped motherboards from Apple's inventory to CTrends, a company run by a co-conspirator, Don M. Baker (who previously admitted to taking part in the fraudulent schemes). Baker harvested components from the motherboards, then Prasad organized purchase orders for those parts. After Baker shipped the components back to Apple, CTrends filed invoices for which Prasad arranged payment. In the end, the pair got Apple to pay for its own components and they split the proceeds of the scam.

In addition to fleecing Apple, Prasad confessed to engaging in tax fraud. He directed payments from Robert Gary Hansen (another co-conspirator who has admitted to taking part in the schemes) straight to his creditors. In addition, Prasad arranged for a shell company to send sham invoices to CTrends with the aim of covering up illicit payments Baker made to him. This enabled Baker "to claim hundreds of thousands of dollars of unjustified tax deductions," the US Attorney's Office said. All told, prosecutors claim that the scams resulted in the IRS losing over $1.8 million.

Prasad will be sentenced in March. He pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. Prasad also pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, which has a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment. Moreover, Prasad agreed to forfeit around $5 million worth of assets he accrued as a result of his criminal actions, including real estate properties.

Justice Department alleges Chinese spies tried to disrupt a criminal investigation into Huawei

Two spies from the People's Republic of China attempted to interfere in a criminal investigation by the US Department of Justice into a prominent Chinese telecommunications company, US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Wednesday. The two agents, Guochun He and Zheng Wang, were working for the benefit of Huawei, reports Bloomberg. According to a complaint seen by the outlet, He and Wang attempted to bribe a law enforcement employee to provide them with information on the Justice Department's investigation.