A Turkish citizen pleaded not guilty to charges he masterminded a scheme that siphoned tens of millions of dollars from automated teller machines, appearing in a U.S. court for the first time after an 18-month extradition battle.
Ercan Findikoglu, also known as the “Predator,” allegedly ran a network that hacked payment processing firms, getting access to prepaid debit cards. The scheme included JPMorgan Chase & Co.-issued cards used by the Red Cross to provide funds to disaster victims, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday in Brooklyn, New York.
The compromised cards were distributed in New York City and at least 20 countries to withdraw money from ATMs. Three such operations were cited in the indictment resulting in withdrawals of a total of $55 million.
In one case, the group used compromised cards in about 36,000 transactions to withdraw about $40 million over two days in February 2013.
Findikoglu eluded capture for five years before being caught in Germany in December 2013. Members of the alleged New York cell were caught within months and prosecuted by a team led by Loretta Lynch, the former Brooklyn U.S. attorney who is now U.S. attorney general.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hilary Jager at a hearing in Brooklyn federal court called Findikoglu a “criminal mastermind,” with extensive contacts overseas, and told a federal magistrate judge that he presents an “overwhelming risk of flight.” Jager also asked that Findikoglu not be permitted to use e-mail while in jail.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom ordered Findikoglu to be held without bail.
Standing in blue jail garb, Findikoglu, 33, told Bloom that he understood English but otherwise spoke little during the proceeding. His lawyer, Christopher Madiou, declined to comment after the arraignment. Findikoglu is to appear in court again July 15.
At least one other person whose name and identifying information were blacked out in the indictment is also charged in the case.
Nellin McIntosh, a spokeswoman for Acting U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie in Brooklyn, declined to say who the other individual is.
Findikoglu faces counts of conspiracy, computer intrusion, bank fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice and trafficking in unauthorized devices, among other crimes. Prosecutors said he may face as long as 35 years in prison if convicted.
Findikoglu also directed a co-conspirator to destroy evidence of criminal activities after a member of the New York “cashing crew” involved in the bank card scheme was arrested. prosecutors said in a letter to the judge.
The case is U.S. v. Findikoglu, 13-cr-440, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).