Crypto Crime Weekly: “21st-Century Stickup” Artist Cops a Plea

A guilty plea in a crazy tale of kidnapping and grand larceny leads off this week’s roundup of the most compelling cryptocurrency-related crime stories from around the web.

Ringleader of Elaborate Crypto Heist Pleads Guilty
On Wednesday, a 35-year-old New Jersey man pleaded guilty to first-degree grand larceny and second-degree kidnapping stemming from a $1.8 million crypto heist. Prosecutors said Louis Meza was the ringleader in a scheme against an unnamed friend that worked like this: In November 2017, after having dinner with the longtime pal in Manhattan, Meza directed him to a minivan that he claimed was an Uber. Midway through the fake Uber ride, a coconspirator popped up in the backseat, brandishing what appeared to be a gun. The crew—a total of three other guys allegedly were involved—took the man’s keys, which Meza used to get into his friend’s apartment and steal a drive holding a huge amount of ether. The victim was in the van for two hours, with a hood over his head, before managing to escape. Under a plea agreement, Meza agreed to a 10-year prison term, although his sentence will be determined by a judge later this month. The cases of the three alleged accomplices are still pending. “Louis Meza orchestrated a 21st-century stickup,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement. Prosecutors say Meza made some boneheaded moves, including transferring the stolen ether to a digital currency exchange account under his own name. [The Wall Street Journal/New York Post]

Russian Bitcoin Fraud Suspect Is Going Home
Greece’s Supreme Court on Tuesday reportedly approved the extradition of Alexander Vinnik to Russia. A Russian national, Vinnik was busted in Greece last year, accused of running BTC-e, a Moscow-based cryptocurrency trading platform that laundered as much as $4 billion in illegal funds. The U.S., France, and Russia had all demanded Vinnik’s extradition, and Russia threatened to retaliate against Greece if it didn’t get its way. One reason Russia might have been so gung ho about getting Vinnik back: BTC-e handled some bitcoin traced to a Russian hacking unit named Fancy Bear, according to crypto analysis firm Elliptic. U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has accused a group of Russian military intelligence officers, known as Fancy Bear, of stealing and releasing Democrats’ emails during the 2016 election season. Vinnik denied the U.S. and French charges against him. “I do not recognize these fake charges,” said Vinnik, appearing before the court in cuffs. “Russia will sort everything out to determine whether or not I am guilty, while France and the U.S. will not be able to do so, as there is no justice there.” [Bloomberg]

Chinese City Tracks Parolees
The Chinese city of Zhongshan says it’s using a blockchain network to track parolees, according to local media. The system is being employed in centers where the ex-cons need to check in and complete community service. The centers’ staff and some law-enforcement agencies have access to the network, enabling them to keep tabs on the parolees and take action if they’re not fulfilling their required duties. The system, which apparently requires those being monitored to wear electronic bracelets, sounds awfully Orwellian—no surprise given China’s abysmal human rights record. [CoinDesk]