Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Cuban admits to role in thefts

UPMC employee informatio­n used to file phony tax returns

- By Torsten Ove

A man living in Venezuela who was part of a ring that used stolen UPMC employee identifica­tions to file bogus tax returns for refunds admitted to his crimes Monday in U.S. District Court here.

Relying on a Spanish interprete­r, Yoandy Perez Llanes, 33, a native of Cuba, pleaded guilty to money laundering, conspiracy and a count of aggravated identity theft for his role in an internatio­nal tax scheme that federal agents are still unraveling.

He had been indicted in 2015 on 21 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and ID theft and extradited to Pittsburgh after a legal fight that reached Venezuela’s top court.

The U.S. Attorney’s office hailed the charge and the extraditio­n as victories in the Justice Department’s efforts to bring internatio­nal cybercrimi­nals to face punishment in the U.S. courts.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Melucci said Mr. Llanes was among a group of conspirato­rs who took advantage of tens of thousands of UPMC W-2 forms that hackers stole and sold on the dark web, an encrypted online marketplac­e for cybercrimi­nals.

The criminal division of the IRS in Pittsburgh and the U.S. Secret Service still are working to determine who broke into UPMC’s computers in 2014 and stole some 62,000 W-2s.

But the agencies have since identified others who bought the stolen data and used it to file tax returns in a crime that has become common enough to generate its own acronym among federal agents — SIRF, or stolen identity refund fraud.

Mr. Melucci said Mr. Llanes’ cohorts filed 939 bogus tax returns using the stolen W-2s and obtained some $1.4 million in illegal refunds from the IRS. He said Mr. Llanes’ role in the operation was to use that money to buy

Amazon.com credits, a monetizing service offered through TurboTax, to buy cell phones, laptops and other electronic­s.

The items were then sent through a re-shipper in Miami to his hotel in Venezuela, where he signed for the packages. Agents said he resold the merchandis­e online for a cut of the proceeds.

Mr. Llanes appeared reluctant to plead at first and told U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak that he did not initially know that the shipments he received were part of a fraud scheme that fleeced the U.S. Treasury.

“I accepted a job to make some extra money,” he said through his interprete­r.

But he later admitted that he came to realize the refunds were the result of stolen U.S. taxpayer informatio­n and acknowledg­ed his guilt.

Judge Hornak will sentence him Aug. 18.

Mr. Llanes is one of the main players in the UPMC fraud, although Mr. Melucci said that he was not the ringleader and that the case is ongoing as agents work to catch others involved.

Agents have publicly identified another, a Venezuelan woman named Maritza Maxima Soler Nodarse, who was arrested in Colombia in March 2016 and is awaiting extraditio­n to Pittsburgh.

She, like Mr. Llanes, is a Cuban native and is accused of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Treasury.

In a separate case that also involved the stolen UPMC data but is not directly connected to Mr. Llanes’ ring, a former U.S. Army sergeant in Washington state has also been charged in Pittsburgh with using the stolen IDs of four UPMC employees to file bogus tax returns.

Justin Tollefson is due in court here next week to plead guilty.

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