The federal wire fraud and computer hacking trial is under way for Roman Seleznev, accused of stealing and selling millions of stolen credit-card numbers, costing card companies nearly $170 million
When accused Russian hacker Roman Seleznev was arrested in July 2014 at the airport on the tiny island nation of The Maldives, his laptop computer contained 1.7 million stolen credit-card numbers, according to federal prosecutors.
Put another way, Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Wilkinson told the jury empaneled Monday in Seleznev’s federal fraud trial, the credit cards laid end to end would stretch 90 miles, from Seattle to Bellingham.
Until his arrest, Wilkinson told the 11 men and four women who will decide Seleznev’s case — 12 jurors and three alternates — Seleznev was, “for seven years, one of the largest traffickers in stolen credit-card numbers in the world.”
Prosecutors allege that credit-card companies lost nearly $170 million in the fraud.
Seleznev, the privileged son of a member of the Russian Parliament, Valery Seleznev, lived a playboy lifestyle that included exotic cars, gambling and partying, all financed by selling credit-card numbers he stole by planting malicious software, or “malware,” on commercial-business computers, according to court documents and news accounts.
He’s charged in a 40-count indictment alleging wire fraud and a series of counts involving damaging protected computers and aggravated identity theft. Seleznev sat quietly in U.S. District Judge Richard Jones’ Seattle courtroom Monday listening to the proceedings through an interpreter.
On Tuesday morning, defense attorney John Henry Browne told jurors he hoped they wouldn’t think the time spent on opening statements had “anything to do with quality” of a case.
“What attorneys say or do is not evidence,” he said.
Browne claimed that prosecutors, in Monday’s opening statement, made a seemingly small mistake by referring to a nine-digit number as an 11-digit number.
“What you are going to learn in this trial is its going to be a lot of technical evidence and a simple mistake like that, in a case like this … is huge,” said Browne. “The detail in this case is going to be excruciating, but very important.”
He told jurors the defense is under no obligation to put on a case of its own, and that the defense will depend “almost entirely” on cross-examination of the government’s witnesses.
Seleznev was identified as a suspect in a series of business computer hacks in 2010 after a Secret Service task force linked computer intrusions at restaurants in Idaho and Washington, including the former Broadway Grill on Capitol Hill, to a mysterious email address and website in Russia, Wilkinson said.
The prosecutor told the jury that Seleznev had built up a sophisticated “global internet business” that he was running from one of his apartments in Vladivostok or from Bali. “That business was a criminal enterprise,” Wilkinson said.
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Prosecutors allege he was able to use his computer skills to steal millions of credit-card numbers from more than 200 businesses, including several in Seattle, and then sold them on the online black market.
He was originally charged in 2011 in a sealed indictment. He was arrested by Secret Service agents in 2014 in what he and his attorneys have called a kidnapping, because The Maldives did not have an extradition treaty with the United States at the time.
Wilkinson said U.S. officials were on the island with the cooperation of local law enforcement.
A month after he was first indicted in 2011, Seleznev suffered serious head injuries during a bombing in Marrakech, Morocco, that killed 17 people. He requires daily medication as a result of his injuries, according to court filings.
The Russian government had responded sharply to Seleznev’s arrest, accusing the United States of kidnapping him.
Seleznev has hired and fired some of the best attorneys in Seattle since his arrest, and has been accused along with his father of potentially plotting an escape.
Most recently, he retained Browne and his law partner, Emma Scanlan, who in May alleged federal agents tampered with Seleznev’s computer after his arrest and sought to suppress key evidence in the trial.
But Judge Jones said Seleznev’s accusations of tampering should be considered by the jury. Jones said he would not exclude the data recovered from the computer, which prosecutors contend is crucial to the government’s case.
After Seleznev’s arrest, his computer was placed in an evidence vault, where agents said it remained for more than three weeks. However, the history of activity on the device showed dozens of files were accessed during that time.
The government’s expert said that activity was automated and routine, and included routine anti-virus scans and maintenance routines.
Prosecutors claimed the tampering claims were “based on the wholesale omission of key facts” and “verges on an outright lack of candor with the court.”