A Russian man has pleaded guilty for his role in a massive computer hacking scheme of U.S. and European companies that U.S. authorities said resulted in the theft of millions of credit card numbers and hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
The U.S. Justice Department said Vladimir Drinkman pleaded guilty on September 15 at a federal court in New Jersey to charges of conspiracy to commit unauthorized access of protected computers and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The indictment against Drinkman says part of a five-man ring based in Russia and Ukraine involved in the 2009 breach of the computers of Heartland Payment Systems, a breach that was at the time billed as the largest computer hacking case ever.
Other companies breached by the hacking group included NASDAQ, Carrefour, Dow Jones, Jet Blue, major retail stores, and others.
Drinkman was arrested in Amsterdam in 2012 and extradited to the United States earlier this year.
Another Russian who was arrested with Drinkman in Amsterdam, Dmitriy Smilyanets, also has been extradited to the United States.
Smilyanets is charged with laundering the illicit profits obtained by the hacking group.
Smilyanets had previously gained international fame as a professional computer gamer and the founder of a Russian professional gaming team called Moscow 5.
Under Smilyanets leadership, Moscow 5 was one of the world's top teams in the League of Legends Championship Series of international professional computer gaming.
Moscow 5 changed its name to Gambit Gaming after Smilyanets' arrest and extradition.
Despite being in U.S. custody, Smilyanets has managed to set up an online webpage that takes bitcoin donations for what he says is a defense fund for his legal expenses.
Smilyanets' attorney insists his client is innocent, and has said publicly that the details of the case will someday become a blockbuster story after the trial is over.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman says the case is the largest computer hacking scheme ever prosecuted anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, two men indicted with Drinkman and Smilyanets as members of the five-man international computer hacking group are still at large.
Roman Seleznev, the son of Russian Duma deputy Valery Seleznev, is also in U.S. custody and has been charged as part of a computer hacking team that stole hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers.
The arrest of Drinkman and Smilyanets has prompted loud complaints from Russia, which said the United States was wrongly seeking to impose its laws around the world.
Russia's Foreign Ministry specifically cited the case of Drinkman in a warning to Russian citizens, saying they could be detained or arrested by U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agencies.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, Bloomberg, and Moscow Times