Dún Laoghaire man could face 108-year US prison term over alleged hacking and wire fraud
US authorities allege hackers aimed to steal Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies
Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES
A 20-year-old Irish man could face a US prison term of more than 100 years if found guilty of allegedly stealing more than $2 million in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies online.
Conor Freeman, was arrested at his home address in Glenageary Court, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, on Thursday on foot of a warrant issued by US authorities.
Mr Freeman’s surrender is being sought on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of aiding and abetting wire fraud and four counts of aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft. If convicted in the US, Mr Freeman is facing up to 108 years in prison.
US authorities allege that members of an online group calling itself “The Community” conspired to “hack numerous targets” with the objective of stealing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, between February 2018 and May 2018. The others are resident in the US.
According to a warrant issued by the US Department of Justice, authorities have identified four attacks in which Mr Freeman allegedly participated that resulted in the theft of cryptocurrency valued at $2,187,977.
US authorities state that they planned to arrest Mr Freeman and seven others on May 9th, 2019. They requested that Mr Freeman be arrested by gardaí on the same date as his alleged co-conspirators because once he learned of the arrests of his alleged co-conspirators, they alleged, he would destroy evidence and potentially flee, according to the warrant.
Det Sgt Jim Kirwan, of the Garda extradition unit, told the High Court on Thursday that he arrested Mr Freeman at his home address in Dún Laoghaire at approximately 8am that morning, May 9th, 2019, and showed him an original warrant. Details of the arrest are being published now.
When asked whether he knew about the allegations, Mr Freeman said, “I do,” according to Det Sgt Kirwan.
Mr Justice Donald Binchy remanded Mr Freeman in custody to appear before the High Court on May 22nd next, when an application for bail is expected to be made.
The extradition warrant states that Mr Freeman and five others were indicted by a Grand Jury in the Eastern District of Michigan on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aiding and abetting wire fraud and aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft on April 18th, 2019.
Members of the group calling itself “The Community” allegedly specialised in a technique called “SIM Hijacking” or “SIM Swapping”, according to the warrant. This technique involves stealing identities by compromising a target’s mobile phone provider or gaining control of the target’s mobile phone number, it adds.
Once these individuals controlled a target’s mobile phone number, they leveraged it to compromise the target’s email and other online accounts, with the goal of eventually gaining control -– and stealing – the target’s cryptocurrency, the warrant states.
In May 2018, a member of “The Community” involved in these attacks was arrested in the Eastern District of Michigan. This individual co-operated with US authorities, who gained access to his computers, including records of online chats between this subject and others.
Review of the chats revealed an individual identifying himself as “Conor” who allegedly played a significant role in “numerous attacks” by “The Community”, the warrant states.
US authorities have identified four attacks in which “Conor” participated that resulted in the theft of cryptocurrency valued at $2,187,977, according to the warrant.
Further investigations revealed that “Conor” is Conor Freeman, according to the warrant. It was substantiated by linking IP addresses used by “Conor” to Irish mobile phone and residential internet service providers, it adds.
The first five counts carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison per count while the final four counts carry a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison, consecutive to the underlying felony.