Football-skimmers face trial
The biggest skimmer-gang finally goes to trial. The young people are charged with stealing money from St. Petersburg residents’ bank cards, while the two leaders are accused of Creation of a Criminal Community and Participation Therein. The swindlers covered their communications by pretending to discuss football.
The preliminary trial of the skimmers began in the Primorsky District Court. The St. Petersburg Investigative Committee employees had to put a lot of effort in order to catch the gang of skimmers targeting clients of the Sberbank and VTB-24 banks. The police managed to do so 3 years ago against all odds. However, only 17 out of 24 offenders were brought to court. Some of unidentified criminals managed to flee.
Petr Bogachev, Zaal Iashvili, Oleg Shchegolev, Artur Mazuruk, Oleg Romanyuk, Mikhail Predkov, Vladimir Kalinenko, Vladimir Golubev, Yuri Gurzhos, Fedor Gusarev, Mikhail Bulakh, Petr Arlashkin, German Arutyunov, Maksim Anosov, and Dmitry Shunkov have been charged with violation of item a part 4 Art. 158 and part 1, 2 of the Russian Criminal Code (Theft committed on an especially large scale). Ilya Sterligov and Petr Baydak have also been charged under Art. 210 (Creation of a Criminal Community and Participation Therein). Moreover, Ilya Sterligov has been charged with vandalism and blackmailing.
Catching the gang was a big deal for the St. Petersburg law enforcement, since these young people are the largest skimmer gang in the city history. The IT geniuses started operating back in 2012, according to the investigators. Ilya Sterligov and Petr Baydak intentionally forged bank cards and used stolen passwords in order to systematically steal money from customers of the 2 banks, operating in St. Petersburg. They also formed a gang.
Skimmers, also known as carders, are swindlers using special electronic devices to steal bank cards information from ATMs. The devices planted on ATMs are also called skimmers (plates laid on top of keyboards, hidden cameras recording pin-codes). Skimmers are usually after bank cards details, pin-codes, and other information helping them access bank accounts.
Put simply, the criminals gathered young talented people, divided them into groups and started giving performances next to ATMs. The point was to create an artificial queue so they could plant skimmers with no one seeing them doing so.
The swindlers would wait for a decent amount of people to use such ATMs once skimmers were installed, removing them after a while using the same trick. They would then proceed to withdrawing money using fake bank cards and stolen passwords.
Moreover, it is not only unrecognized IT geniuses who made up the gang, but hardened criminals with no remorse for their victims as well.
The hackers digitized the information stolen using MCP 606 Card Devices, which allowed stealing pin-codes, too.
The offenders had strict rules the members had to abide. Money stolen would first go to their common fund and only then be distributed among members. Moreover, the informal gang leaders even managed to control their subordinates so no one told about their activities to anyone, according to the investigators. The gang was very well equipped with hard- and software, too. They knew they needed to cover their activities, so they acted as football fans when on the phone or exchanging messages: they referred to withdrawal of money from ATMs as a football game; day on which thefts would be committed as football matches; ATMs as “stadiums”.
Law enforcement officers confiscated over a thousand of bank cards blanks, information reading and recording hardware, 15 mobile phones, 20 SIM-cards, and several notebooks as the result of searches performed in offenders’ apartments. That was enough to prosecute the suspects, but the investigators referred the criminal case to court due to its complexity, high amount of members and offences committed.
The gang committed more than 58 thefts from 2012 to 2013, stealing money from bank accounts and inflicting more than 6 million rubles in damage to the banks. The criminals are charged with the total of 75 thefts.
The sentence may be influenced by information revealed as the legal proceedings began. It may not work in the investigators’ favor, too. Ilya Sterligov, one of the accused and alleged gang leaders, may very well turn out to be a straw person. Some people contacted him and asked to supervise the gang. It is worth mentioning these people were put on the federal wanted list and allegedly were not in St. Petersburg at the time. He agreed and did so distantly, without getting to meet other members.
Ilya Sterligov is believed to have contacted with the gang through Pyotr Baydak. It is very hard to prove such a way of criminal supervision in court. The defense thinks such a charge stands no chances. Aleksandr Vorobyov, Sterligov’s attorney at law, claims charges against his client are nothing more than Evgeny Mikhaylov’s, one of the accused, revenge on his former superior. He and Ilya confronted each other when the former worked as the latter’s driver. Mikhaylov had already stood convicted and agreed to a plea bargain, too.
Moreover, the government will have to compensate moral damages and 3 years-long illegal imprisonment to Sterligov in case the defendant wins. Pre-trial detention cannot exceed 18 months, according to the law. This means Ilya Sterligov should have been released in January 2015. However, both he and Pyotr Baydak are still held in pre-trial detention center.
It is now a matter of not only the Primorsky District Court (which is to sit on the criminal case soon), but the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation as well, too. The defense team appealed his detention in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. The Court took the prosecution’s side. However, one judge expressed his special opinion, which was protocoled.
That is why everyone expected the first Primorsky District Court pre-trial sitting petition to be concerned with change of measure of restraint for the two men. And it did. Judge Komaretskaya, the sitting judge, did not allow it, though. Scheduling of the case for trial was one of the other issues discussed. The pre-trial sitting will continue on September 27 due to the high amount of accused. The further trial schedule is to be determined the same day, too.
That is not the first criminal case concerned with money theft from bank accounts heard in the Primorsky District Court. The Court has previously condemned a gang of thefts who stole 8 million rubles total. The gang consisted of 4 people: 2 brothers, Konstantin and Stanislav Romanov (bank cash-in-transit guards), Valentina Grosheva, and previously convicted Yuri Bolshev. The Romanov brothers used their knowledge of ATMs configuration, as well as of money loading schedule and codes for ATM opening. They stole more than 8 million rubles from 3 ATMs from January 2011 to January 2013. The brothers and Bolshov were sentences to 3.5 and 3 years and 7 months in prison respectively; Grosheva was given 3-year suspended sentence.
It is a pretty safe guess the court will have passed a judgment by the New Year despite the case voluminosity thanks to the fact that all the accused except for Ilya Sterligov and Pyotr Baydak confessed. However, the case is to take a lot of time. The investigators can reap the fruits of their work now despite the upcoming complexity concerning the case since skimming went down drastically in St. Petersburg. The same goes for the bank systems, since the investigators provided employees of the 2 banks with information gathered during the investigation. It will help the banks strengthen their security, decreasing probability of skimming attacks in the future. The CrimeRussia is going to keep an eye on the case development.
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