17 Aug 2022

Irish hacker's conviction for $2m cryptocurrencies theft means US no longer want him extradited

Irish hacker's conviction for $2m cryptocurrencies theft means US no longer want him extradited

The United States is no longer seeking the surrender of a Dublin computer hacker for the theft of over $2 million in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies after his conviction here, the High Court has heard this morning.

With the withdrawal of the extradition request, Conor Freeman is no longer facing a maximum possible sentence of 108 years in prison after a sentence of two years and 11 months was imposed on him here.

Siobhán Ni Chúlacháin BL, for the Attorney General, told High Court judge Mr Justice Paul Burns today that Freeman was already serving a sentence in Ireland that arose from the same offences and had not lodged any appeal.

Freeman (21), of Glenageary Court, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, was jailed by Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in November for just under three years, after pleading guilty to knowingly engaging in the possession of the proceeds of crime - namely 142.75682712 Bitcoin.

Ms Ní Chúlacháin told Mr Justice Burns that she was handing a US diplomatic note into the court confirming the formal withdrawal of Freeman's extradition warrant of 20 May, 2019.

Ms Ní Chúlacháin said that because Freeman had been convicted and sentenced in the interim and that no appeal had been filed on either his or the DPP's behalf, the US no longer sought his surrender.  

The surrender of Freeman, who appeared by video-link from Mountjoy Prison, had been sought on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of aiding and abetting wire fraud and four counts of aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft in 2018. Had he been convicted in the US, Freeman was facing a maximum of 108 years in prison.

Mr Paul Carroll SC, defending Freeman, had previously told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that there was an expectation that because of his client's co-operation with authorities in Ireland and the US, the extradition request would be withdrawn.

Freeman, who was described in that court as a "loner", had pleaded guilty to stealing $100,000 in cryptocurrency from Darran Marble on May 15, 2018, stealing cryptocurrencies with an approximate value of $1,921,335, from Seth Sharpiro on May 16, 2018, and stealing cryptocurrencies with an approximate value of $167,622.22 from Micheal Templeman on May 18, 2018.

Furthermore, Freeman entered guilty pleas to three counts of dishonestly operating a computer to make a gain on dates between May 15 and May 18, 2018. He had no previous convictions.

Passing sentence, Judge Martin Nolan said the crime involved “guile and deception” and a custodial sentence was warranted despite the mitigation in order to punish the accused, to deter him and to deter others.

The judge said there was “almost perfect mitigation” in the case and the mitigating factors included Freeman's guilty plea, his co-operation, his youth and the fact he had no previous convictions.

Judge Nolan sentenced Freeman to three years' imprisonment but reduced the sentence to two years and 11 months imprisonment to give him credit for time he has already spent in custody.

Freeman was identified by US Homeland Security as having taken part in the thefts and five of Freeman's co-accused are before the courts in the United States.

In May 2019, Freeman was arrested at his home in Dun Laoghaire on foot of a warrant issued by US authorities. Following his arrest, Freeman handed over what remained of his share from the theft to gardaí, which, due to the increase in value of Bitcoin in the intervening period, was then worth over $2 million.

US authorities had alleged that members of an online group calling itself 'The Community' conspired to 'hack numerous targets' with the objective of stealing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, between February 2018 and May 2018.

According to the extradition warrant issued by the US Department of Justice, authorities identified four attacks, in which Freeman allegedly participated, that resulted in the theft of cryptocurrency valued at $2,187,977.

The warrant stated that Freeman and five others were indicted by a Grand Jury in the Eastern District of Michigan on charges of conspiracy to commit wire-fraud, aiding and abetting wire-fraud and aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft on April 18, 2019.

Members of the 'The Community' allegedly specialised in a technique called 'SIM Hijacking' or 'SIM Swapping', according to the warrant. This technique involves stealing identities by compromising a target’s mobile phone provider or gaining control of the target’s mobile phone number, it adds. 

Once these individuals controlled a target’s mobile phone number, they leveraged it to compromise the target’s email and other online accounts, with the goal of eventually gaining control and stealing the target’s cryptocurrency, the warrant states. 

In May 2018, a member of 'The Community' involved in these attacks was arrested in Michigan. This individual cooperated with US authorities, who gained access to his computers, including records of online chats between this subject and others.

Review of the chats revealed an individual identifying himself as 'Conor', who allegedly played a significant role in “numerous attacks” by 'The Community', the warrant stated.

Investigations revealed that 'Conor' was Conor Freeman, which was substantiated by linking IP addresses used by 'Conor' to an Irish mobile phone and residential internet service providers.

The first five counts that Freeman had been sought for carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison per count while the final four counts carried a mandatory minimum sentence of two years, consecutive to the underlying felony.

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