In Las Vegas, Andrew Duncan is a federal prosecutor who looks just like a prosecutor that you might see on a crime show on tv. He noted on the opening day of a trial of an alleged cybercriminal this week that TV always has shown organized crime people in a certain fashion. Usually, it’s thicknecked mafia hoods plotting things in a back room somewhere.
But, Duncan noted during the trial, things have changed a lot. In this particular case, the website www.carder.su was used for all sorts of criminal enterprises. It was a cybercrime forum on the Internet that was used by 7000 people around the world engaged in fraud of various kinds. It was really an eBay for criminals. Vendors who were screened carefully sold all sorts of illegal products: stolen IDs, stolen credit card information, counterfeiting gear, hacker equipment and tools, and online banking information. The site had forum administrators and moderators, and members could even post reviews of what they bought.
The site allegedly was run by a Russian named Roman Zolotarev, and it had many high priced vendors and moderators who knew their trades. However, none of those people were involved in this current trial. This case was about a small time credit card con artist who signed up at carder.su when he was 17. A year later, he made the mistake of engaging with an undercover Secret Service agent.
That man is now 22, and his name is David Camez, and he is the nation’s first cybercrime defendant to go on trial for the federal crime of racketeering. He has been charged with conspiracy to violate RICO laws, and also with another charge of actually violating RICO. He is facing a sentence of 20 years.
The key legal matter in the trial is not if Camez is a criminal – they know he already is serving a prison sentence for forgery. The question is if the website he was using was actually an organized criminal organization, similar to the Mafia.
The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was enacted 40 years ago, which allows the federal government to hold every member in a criminal organization responsible for the overall actions of the group. If it applies in this case, Camez can be held responsible for every crime that was committed by all of the users on the website.
A conviction in this case would give the US government a new weapon as it fights a number of underground Internet forums that deal in drugs, weapons and cybercrime.
Ten defendants in this case already pleaded guilty, but Camez has not, according to his lawyer. He stated that in a racketeering case, there always is a boss giving you orders. In this case, no one told David what he should do. He claims that he is not involved in racketeering.
This case is the first to go to trial from the operation known as Open Market, which was an undercover probe that lasted four years. It had the US government selling high quality fake ID cards to over 100 criminals all around the globe. It did this to gather evidence on four separate indictments against 60 defendants in 10 countries.
Regarding Camez, the defense is arguing that Carder.su is similar to craigslist and is not like the Mafia at all. People do meet and chat, and they make criminal deals, but no one is in charge of it. If there is no organization, then there can be no RICO charge, according to his lawyer. The RICO law recently was used to put away famous Boston mobster Whitey Bulger for life in prison.
It remains to be seen how the jury will decide this case, but when it does, it will be a decision that has major ramifications for cybercrime prosecution in the future.