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Sentencing in Major International Cyber Crime Prosecution
Supervisor of Chicago Cashing Crew Imprisoned

U.S. Attorney’s Office August 21, 2012
  • Northern District of Georgia (404) 581-6000

ATLANTA—Sonya Martin, 45, of Nigeria and Chicago, Illinois, a manager of a Chicago cell in one of the most sophisticated and organized computer hacking and ATM cashout schemes ever perpetrated, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Steve C. Jones to serve two years and six months in federal prison on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

“This case demonstrates the growing expertise and reach of law enforcement in combating international cyber criminals,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners throughout the world to investigate and prosecute those who defraud victims in the United States, wherever the perpetrators may be.”

Brian D. Lamkin, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated: “While this was a complex, internationally coordinated crime with many different players and components, it would not have gotten very far without the cashing crews. Today’s sentencing sends a cautionary message to those here in the U.S. who would aid and abet those individuals abroad in such criminal schemes that you will be held accountable.”

Martin was sentenced to two years and six months in prison to be followed by five years’ supervised release, and $89,120.25 restitution.

According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges, and other information presented in court: During November 2008, an elite group of hackers obtained unauthorized access into the computer network of WorldPay US, Inc., then-known as RBS WorldPay, a payment processor located in Atlanta. The hackers used sophisticated techniques to compromise the data encryption that was used by WorldPay to protect customer data on payroll debit cards. Payroll debit cards are used by various companies to pay their employees. By using a payroll debit card, employees are able to make purchases or withdraw their salaries from an ATM.

Once they compromised the encryption, the hackers raised the balances and ATM withdrawal limits on compromised accounts, and provided a network of lead “cashers” with 44 debit card account numbers and their associated PINs, which were used to withdraw more than $9 million from over 2,100 ATMs in at least 280 cities worldwide, including cities in the United States, Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Italy, Hong Kong, Japan, and Canada. The $9 million loss occurred within a span of less than 12 hours on November 8, 2008.

Throughout the cashout, the hackers monitored the fraudulent ATM withdrawals in real-time from within the computer systems of WorldPay. Once the withdrawals were completed, the hackers sought to destroy data stored on the card processing network in order to conceal their illegal activity. WorldPay nevertheless discovered the unauthorized activity and immediately reported the breach.

Defendant Sonya Martin worked with one of the lead cashers and supervised a cashing crew in Chicago. Martin was given a payroll card number and PIN code, and manufactured counterfeit debit cards based on that information. She gave the counterfeit cards to underlings she recruited and supervised, and together they fraudulently withdrew approximately $80,000 from various Chicago ATMs during the early morning hours of November 8, 2008. Martin, whose primary residence is in Nigeria, was arrested in March 2011 outside JFK airport in New York on her way to London.

This case was investigated by special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistance was provided by numerous domestic and international law enforcement partners. WorldPay immediately reported the crime and substantially assisted in the investigation.

Assistant United States Attorneys Lawrence R. Sommerfeld and Nicholas Oldham, and Trial Attorney Carol Sipperly of the Department of Justice Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section prosecuted the case, with substantial assistance from the Department of Justice Office of International Affairs.

For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Information Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the HomePage for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is www.justice.gov/usao/gan.

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