NEW YORK (AP) - A prolific Russian-speaking hacker behind cyberattacks that netted an estimated $55 million is facing sentencing by a U.S. judge on a conviction considered an unusual win for law enforcement officials who have identified, but failed to arrest, hundreds of others like him.
Ercan Findikoglu, a Turkish national who also speaks English, pleaded guilty last year conspiracy charges that could land him in prison for up to 14 years. He was due in Brooklyn federal court for sentencing on Friday.
Before his capture by the U.S. Secret Service, Findikoglu had gone to great lengths to obscure his cyber fingerprints and stay out of the reach of American law, according to court papers. He advised one co-conspirator at one point to not "go to usa. U will get arrested," the papers said.
It wasn't until Findikoglu made an ill-advised trip to Germany in December 2013 that he was arrested at the request of U.S. authorities. After losing a court challenge, he was eventually extradited.
Foreign hackers "know their safe havens and some are more challenging to get to," said Robert Sica, who retired last year as the special agent in charge of the Secret Service's New York field office. "Inevitably they make a mistake."
In court papers, a lawyer for Findikoglu describes his 34-year-old client as an intelligent, self-educated man who as a youngster found refuge from an abusive father and sickly mother in cyber cafes, honed his skills for the Turkish military and then used his computer savvy for illicit personal gain.
"Mr. Findikoglu's offense conduct is completely intertwined with his computer skills: he is a hacker," wrote lawyer Christopher Madiou, noting his Russian wife, Alena Kovalenko, and their 5-year-old son have twice been denied visas by U.S. immigration officials.
But according to prosecutors, Findikoglu masterminded three complex financial crimes by hacking into different credit card processors, eliminating the limits on prepaid cards and then sending PIN information and access codes to crews of so-called "cashers" who within hours withdrew thousands of dollars from ATMs. Managers of the crews either hand-delivered the cash or wired funds to Findikoglu and others in Turkey, prosecutors said.
In one December 2012 hack, they say, 5,000 cashers in 20 countries withdrew a total of $5 million - including $400,000 in 700 transactions from 140 New York ATMs - in less than three hours, according to court papers.
A percentage of the stolen cash was then kicked back to Findikoglu via wire transfers and deliveries to co-conspirators in Turkey, Romania and Ukraine, prosecutors charge.
The Secret Service investigates financial crimes committed by international hackers. The FBI goes after state-sponsored hackers in counter-intelligence cases and has faced similar difficulties putting foreigners behind bars.
In 2014, U.S. authorities indicted five members of the Chinese military on hacking charges, though experts say it's unlikely they'll ever be extradited to the U.S.
Russian hacker Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev is on the FBI's most-wanted list, has a $3 million bounty on his head and is believed to be living freely in Russia.
"You work with other partner countries in the European Union so that should they travel there are arrest notices," said Sica, the ex-Secret Service agent. "We have a footprint around the world."
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.
A charity run, meals for the needy, a long-running music festival and -- shhh! -- holiday shopping were on tap for Thanksgiving Day in San Diego.
The average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline in San Diego County was at its highest amount on Thanksgiving since 2013 Thursday, despite dropping for 10 consecutive days.
The California Highway Patrol arrested 15 in San Diego County on suspicion of drunken driving, during the first night of its annual Thanksgiving "maximum enforcement period."
The always-heated topic of whether to begin holiday shopping on Thanksgiving Day will be raised again Thursday, as many chain stores will open their doors around San Diego one day before the so-called "Black Friday."
A charity run, meals for the needy, a long-running music festival and holiday shopping are on tap for Thursday's Thanksgiving Day in San Diego.
Your living room often becomes your work space if you work from home. If you have kids, the house can be even more chaotic. Well now, more women are able to take 10-15 steps out of their home and into their "she shed."
Around 60,000 passengers are expected to pass through San Diego's Lindbergh Field daily during the upcoming holiday weekend.