Federal prosecutors think suspected Russian hacker Roman Seleznev has hidden assets and should be ordered to pay the expense of his public defenders.
Federal prosecutors have taken the rare step of challenging the appointment of publicly funded lawyers to represent accused Russian hacker Roman Seleznev and have asked a judge to order Seleznev to reimburse the government for his defense.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Norm Barbosa argued Friday that the investigation into Seleznev — accused of stealing and selling tens of millions of credit-card numbers — has revealed evidence that he has substantial assets that could be used to reimburse the government for his defense.
As a result, Barbosa filed amotion asking the court to order Seleznev to pay for the two lawyers from the Seattle Federal Public Defender’s Office assigned to represent him. The law mandates that those accused of a crime be afforded an attorney at public expense if they can’t afford one themselves.
The government is not suggesting the court dismiss the defenders, Barbosa said, but that Seleznev pay for them.
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Barbosa told U.S. District Judge Richard Jones that the government has uncovered substantial evidence that Seleznev can afford an attorney.
As proof, the government provided the court with photographs of stacks of cash and luxury cars found on Seleznev’s phone and computer when he was arrested on July 5 while vacationing in the Maldives, a tiny chain of islands in the Indian Ocean.
The Secret Service had been after Seleznev since 2011, when he was charged in a sealed indictment with 29 counts of bank fraud, computer hacking and aggravated identity theft.
Prosecutors allege that Seleznev and a group of co-conspirators made nearly $18 million — and maybe more — hacking into businesses around the globe, stealing the credit-card information of millions of consumers, and selling it through black-market dump sites.
Agents said Seleznev lived a lavish lifestyle and traveled frequently, but had avoided countries with an extradition treaty with the U.S. up to that point.
While the Maldives did not have a treaty with the U.S., its government agreed to cooperate and Seleznev was arrested at the airport by Secret Service agents. He was extradited to Seattle, where he is set to go to trial in November.
Seleznev 30, is the son of Valery Seleznev, a prominent member of the Russian Federation parliament and an ally of President Vladimir Putin. The Russian government has protested the younger Seleznev’s arrest as a U.S. kidnapping.
Seleznev faces similar charges in federal court in Nevada.
At Friday’s hearing, Barbosa pointed to the Maldives arrest as proof of the type of assets that Seleznev had access to: He had spent two weeks in a $1,470-a-night room. With that kind of money, Barbosa argued, the defendant can afford to pay for his lawyers.
“It was just so in-your-face that we had to at least make the point that the public should not bear this expense,” he said.
In its motion, the government said Seleznev charged more than $130,000 in personal expenses on one credit card between December 2012 and his arrest in July, and there is evidence he spent $800,000 on two apartments in Bali.
After his arrest, Seleznev was represented by high-end lawyers from four private law firms in New York, Washington and Seattle before asking for a public attorney, Barbosa pointed out.
And there are the photos of stacks of cash, much of it in Russian rubles.
Barbosa said the government believes Seleznev had fudged the financial data he provided to the court at the time of his arrest. Those documents are supposed to be sealed, however, Barbosa said the government was able to review them.
That raised serious concerns by Seleznev’s public-defenders, who said the issue “drives a wedge” between them and their client, and diverts them from concentrating on his defense.
“He has no ability to pay,” federal defender Leonard Russell told the court, noting that Seleznev has been incarcerated for seven or eight months since his arrest. “He had money at the time, but it’s gone.”
Jones brought up a similar point. “Sometimes the ability to access funds disappears” after someone is arrested. “How do I know this is not the case here?” he asked.
The judge said he would postpone a decision but ordered Seleznev, within the next two weeks, to file a sealed, sworn declaration with the court detailing his assets. If he lies, the judge said, he could be charged with perjury.