WASHINGTON — Federal authorities indicted nine people in two separate indictments in what they said is “the largest-known computer hacking and securities fraud scheme” in history involving an international ring of hackers and traders who stole pre-published financial press releases targeting such companies as retailer Zumiez Inc., initiated illegal stock trades and made millions of dollars in illicit profits.
The scheme was detailed in indictments unsealed by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the District of New Jersey and the Eastern District of New York on Tuesday, charging nine defendants. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a separate complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.
According to the two criminal indictments, the individuals hacked into three business newswires and stole about 150,000 “yet-to-be published” press releases over five years containing nonpublic financial information. They then used that information to make trades that allegedly generated more than $30 million in illegal profits.
In its complaint, the SEC charged that 17 defendants, including the nine named in the indictments, conspired to hack into business newswires and trade securities, “reaping over $100 million in unlawful profits.”
“The defendants were a well-organized group that allegedly robbed the newswire companies and their clients and cheated the securities markets and the investing public by engaging in an unprecedented hacking and trading scheme,” said Paul J. Fishman, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.
According to the indictments, two Ukrainian computer hackers — Ivan Turchynov and Oleksander Ieremenko — gained unauthorized access into the computer networks of Marketwire LP, PR Newswire Association LLC and Business Wire.
Using a “series of sophisticated cyber attacks to gain access to the computer networks,” the hackers stole press releases about “upcoming announcements by public companies” related to earnings, gross margins, revenues and other confidential financial materials. The hackers then allegedly shared the press releases for a fee with traders who generally “traded ahead” of the public distribution of the stolen press releases, according to the indictments.
In addition to Zumiez, the companies said to be targeted were Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, Panera Bread Co., Align Technology and Verisign Inc.
The SEC said Zumiez, a specialty retailer based in Lynnwood, Wash., uploaded a press release to Newswire Service 1 on Oct. 31, 2012, in which it “revised its third-quarter guidance downward due to a challenging sales environment in Europe.” Between the time it was uploaded and the public distribution of the earnings release by Newswire, a number of the named defendants “sold short Zumiez stock and profited,” the indictment said.
The alleged traders made $449,903 in profits from the alleged illegal trading in Zumiez stock, according to the SEC, and Zumiez stock prices fell over $4 per share after the news was announced.
“With the benefit of the stolen material nonpublic information, all of the defendants who traded in Zumiez during the window between upload of the earnings release and its publication traded in a manner expecting the price of the stock to decrease when the news was published,” the SEC complaint said.
The 23-count District of New Jersey indictment charged five defendants, three who reside in Ukraine and two in Alpharetta, Ga., with wire fraud conspiracy, securities fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud and money laundering conspiracy. The Eastern District of New York indictment charged four separate defendants with similar charges.
Five of the nine defendants — Akardiy Dubovoy and Igor Dubovoy of Alpharetta; Leonid Momotok of Suwanee, Ga.; Aleksandr Garkusha of Cummings and Alpharetta, Ga., and Vitaly Korchevsky of Glen Mills, Pa. — were arrested Tuesday. International arrest warrants have been issued for four defendants who reside in Ukraine.