The FBI has arrested one of its most wanted cybercrime suspects, an American who fled to Russia. Under what conditions Joshua Aaron suddenly returned to the US is unclear, but he will face 2015 charges related to the largest financial hack in US history.
Aaron, 32, will be in a Manhattan federal district court Thursday morning, according to a Wednesday announcement from the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York. He is one of nine co-defendants in a case involving over 100 million hacked accounts from dozens of companies, including more than 83 million JPMorgan Chase & Co. accounts compromised, in a hacking and fraud operation run from 2007 to mid-2015.
Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara called the scheme “hacking as a business model,” in the announcement of Aaron’s arrest. Aaron is a native of Maryland who attended college in Florida.
The US Attorney’s Office also named Israelis Gery Shalon and Ziv Orenstein as co-defendants; they were extradited to the US by Israel earlier this year. Aaron and Shalon are charged in the “largest theft of customer data from a US financial institution in history,” which facilitated their “securities market manipulation schemes” perpetrated with Orenstein, according to the US Attorney’s Office.
As a result of negotiations with US authorities, Aaron agreed to fly to New York from Moscow, where he had been detained as an illegal immigrant under deportation orders, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter who wished to not be identified. One of those people reportedly claims that Aaron was “roused early [Wednesday] morning and dispatched to the airport” after arrangements were suddenly made this week.
Russia has no extradition treaty with the US, but court transcripts show Russia offered to trade Aaron to US authorities in exchange for a “reciprocal” act, to which the US Embassy gave no response, Bloomberg reported.
Aaron’s attorney, Benjamin Brafman, says his client waived extradition and voluntarily reentered the US, according to Bloomberg. The news outlet also reports the possibility of another perpetrator and colluder still on the loose, an unnamed Russian-speaking hacker mentioned in court documents regarding the massive computer hacks. Aaron may have information about this unidentified hacker, it is speculated.
Bloomberg’s sources said Aaron had requested asylum and may have reached a plea deal agreement, despite the fact that he was arrested upon arrival to the US.
Aaron, Shalon and Orenstein will be charged for schemes ranging from emailing fake promotions to boost stock prices to operating online casinos to running an illegal bitcoin exchange and money laundering through at least 75 shell companies and accounts worldwide, Reuters reported.