Crypto hackers jailed over £5.7m theft

  • Disciplinary
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

Two crypto thieves stole almost £6m from Bitcoin wallets around the world with just 55 victims being identified so far

Jake Lee, 38, from Bath and James Heppel, 42, from Wiltshire pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit fraud have been jailed for four years and 15 months respectively.

The crime came to light in 2018 after a southwest Regional Organised Crime Unit (SWROCU) investigation found the pair had been hacking into people’s Bitcoin wallets by ‘spoofing the domain’ of the cryptocurrency exchange.

So far 55 victims across 26 countries have been located and the total scammer is estimated to have defrauded up to £5.7m. Despite efforts by the police only £835,000 has been recovered, with £551,000 in cash handed in by Lee voluntarily. They also recovered a £60,000 Banksy picture and three cars.

DS Matt Brain from SWROCU’s regional cyber crime unit said: ‘Our investigation started back in 2018 after colleagues at Avon and Somerset Police arrested Lee on suspicion of money laundering.

‘As well as £24,000 cash, officers from the force seized digital devices and three laminated Bitcoin wallet recovery seeds. At the same time, our unit had started an investigation into a cryptocurrency scam reported by a Wiltshire victim who had £11,000 worth of Bitcoin removed from his Blockchain wallet.

‘We took on the investigation into Lee and when we analysed his devices, we established he was a central figure involved in a sophisticated domain spoofing fraud and worked to identify numerous victims.

‘Mapping out Lee and Heppel’s offending and links to other suspects and cryptocurrency exchanges all over the world was complex work, but the fact they both pleaded guilty to all counts, negating the need for a six-week trial, shows the strength of evidence we secured against them.’

A further confiscation order has been made against Lee, which is intended to compensate some of the victims.

Pamela Jain, a specialist prosecutor with the Serious Economic Organised Crime International Directorate of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: ‘This was a complex and time-consuming prosecution which involved enquiries with numerous victims and prosecuting authorities all over the world.

‘A substantial sum of money and assets have been seized. In addition to his prison sentence, the court also ordered Jake Lee to pay almost £1m by way of a confiscation order which will enable the victims to be compensated. Confiscation proceedings against James Heppel are ongoing.

‘Compensation orders force criminals to hand over available money and assets or face having time added onto their prison sentence.’

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