After a decade on the run, a Bulgarian national tied to a worldwide cybercrime ring responsible for racking up millions in unauthorized bank charges was sentenced today to 30 months in prison.
Aleksi Kolarov, 32, who pleaded guilty to identify theft and related charges, was connected to a group known as the Shadowcrew, which operated a virtual on-line bazaar for people to buy and sell stolen credit card numbers. Prosecutors said Kolarov served as a vendor, using the site to sell illicit merchandise and services to other members.
In 2004, authorities stumbled on the elusive Shadowcrew, which stole data from 1.5 million accounts and racked up at least $4 million in unauthorized bank withdrawals or chargesâ€”often reselling stolen goods on sites like eBay before the operation was shut down. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, it was the worldâ€™s largest illegal marketplace for hacking and identity theft when dismantled by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Secret Service.
The case was cracked with the help of Albert Gonzalez, a high-living Miami hacker who served as a shadowcrew.com administrator until he was arrested in 2003.
Gonzalez cooperated with law enforcement during a year-long sting based out of New Jersey, in which he helped track and record transactions through the encrypted computer board. Only later did authorities learn that their informant was double-dealing, secretly working his own scheme to penetrate some of the nation’s largest retail operations, and stealing tens of millions from banks, consumers and businesses.
Caught in 2008, Gonzalez is now serving a 20-year sentence in federal prison.
Of 19 charged in the Shadowcrew case, 15 pleaded guilty, but four othersâ€”including Kolarovâ€”vanished.
Kolarov eventually reappeared after he was apprehended in South America by the Paraguay National Police in an unrelated fraud after banks there reported suspicious activity involving several foreign debit cards from Italy, Switzerland and Germany.
Tracked using ATM video footage that showed him making frequent withdrawals using counterfeit cards, Kolaroz was arrested in June 2011 at the exclusive five-star Hotel Guarani Esplendor in the heart of AsunciÃ³n, where Paraguay police found hundreds of thousands of dollars in various currencies, counterfeit payment cards and electronic devices to re-encode cards.
After serving two years in jail in Paraguay, he was extradited upon his release to the United States last year to face the outstanding Shadowcrew charges in federal court, arriving in Newark in June 2013, escorted by U.S. Marshals.
Kolarov pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to commit both identity theft and access device fraud.
Facing five years in prison, he received 30 months in a sentencing hearing this morning before U.S. District Judge William Martini in Newark.
Three others charged in the case remain at large, prosecutors said.