ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) – A Russian computer hacker who facilitated $ 20 million in credit card fraud and led an advanced information center for international cyber criminals was sentenced to nine years in prison on Friday.
Prosecutors say that Aleksei Burkov of Saint Petersburg, Russia has fulfilled a unique niche in the world of cyber crime and described his Direct Connection website as “the most exclusive criminal forum on the Internet.” have three existing members who vouch for them. Once inside, members could buy and sell stolen credit card numbers, hacking services and malware, and criminals with different skills could join forces to make arrangements.
“You have made it a criminal as soon as you get on Direct Connection because you have access to the best criminals in the world,” said prosecutor Kellen Dwyer at Friday’s hearing.
The website – which ran from 2009 to 2015, when Burkov was arrested – even had an arbitration option to arbitrate disputes between members who conducted transactions on the site.
A second website, Card Planet, offered stolen credit card numbers for sale anywhere from $ 3 to $ 60, according to court records. More than 150,000 numbers were listed for sale, mostly stolen from US financial institutions. The site even offered money back guarantees if a stolen number didn’t work.
The charges against Burkov were filed in 2015. He was subsequently arrested in Israel and spent several years in custody there while the Russian government fought against extradition and made its own extradition request. He arrived in the US only in November 2019.
The 9-year sentence was less than the maximum 15-year sentence demanded by prosecutors. He will also receive credit for the 4 1/2 years he has served pending conviction. With the earnings for good behavior, he could be free in about three years.
Defense lawyers asked for a seven-year prison sentence.
Israeli officials have suggested that Russia sought the release of Burkov by offering an exchange for Naama Issachar, a 26-year-old Israeli woman who received a seven-year sentence in Moscow for marijuana charges. She was released in January after serving 10 months and was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin about a week after Burkov pleaded guilty in the US.
It is unclear whether Russia will continue to push for Burkov’s release. Judge TS Ellis III ordered Burkov to serve his sentence near the DC area to facilitate future conversations with his lawyer that may be needed “for reasons I don’t think need to be explained.” Burkov’s lawyer, Gregory Stambaugh, who asked Burkov to stay in the area, declined to comment on whether Burkov could possibly be part of some form of prisoner exchange.
In court, Burkov apologized for his behavior.
“I recognize my guilt and rethink my life,” he said through an interpreter.
Israeli officials have suggested that Russia sought the release of Burkov by offering an exchange for Naama Issachar, a 26-year-old Israeli woman who received a seven-year sentence in Moscow for marijuana charges.
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