Members of the hacking scheme, including Mr. Abayev and Mr. Leyman, began exploring ways to gain access to the dispatch system in 2019, the indictment says. Eventually, they succeeded, and were able to move specific taxis to the front of the line, ahead of those that had arrived in the lot earlier.
The defendants communicated with drivers through large group chat threads, the indictment says, adding that when the conspirators gained access to the system on a particular day, a message would be sent: “Shop open.” When the hackers’ access was interrupted, another message would go out: “Shop closed.”
As the indictment describes the scheme, drivers paid the $10 fee in cash or through a mobile payment system. Sometimes, the fee was waived if the driver agreed to recruit other cabbies. To take advantage of the scheme, approaching drivers would send their taxi medallion numbers to the group chat threads and were told which terminal to go to in order to pick up a fare.
In early December 2019, just months after the scheme began, the indictment says, Mr. Abayev sent a voice message to one of the Russian hackers, saying they had charged for a record number of trips that day.
“This is exactly the level that I want to have every day,” Mr. Abayev said.
Mr. Abayev and Mr. Leyman moved more than $100,000 of their criminal proceeds to the hackers in Russia, the indictment says.
Mr. Abayev also repeatedly sent a message to large groups of drivers participating in the scheme instructing them how to avoid detection by law enforcement authorities.
“DEAR DRIVERS !!!! PLEASE !!!! Do not wait at the gas station in JFK,” the message said, listing other locations where drivers also should not wait. Drivers should be “very very” careful, the message cautioned, ending with two emojis of police officers.