A self-described day trader was indicted Wednesday on allegations he conspired to hack into online brokers accounts to conduct coordinated trades that cost the affected firms more than $2 million, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
Joseph Willner was indicted on four counts, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and securities fraud, for his alleged part in the trade hacks. Prosecutors say that between September 2014 and May 2017, Willner and alleged co-conspirators gained access to more than 50 online brokerage accounts. Willner would make stock short sales at inflated prices, according to prosecutors. At the same time, they say, Willner’s co-conspirators, who gained access over victims’ brokerage accounts, placed orders to buy the stocks at the artificially high prices.
Prosecutors allege that Willner and his co-conspirators repurchased the stock from the victims at market rate or below, netting a profit for the alleged conspirators. Willner then allegedly laundered the proceeds through bitcoin.
“Cybercriminals continue to come up with innovative ways to steal money from victims using the Internet, as in this case where defendant Willner’s co-conspirators allegedly hacked into the victims’ accounts in order to execute fraudulent short sales,” acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde said in a statement. “Regardless of what innovative ways fraudsters come up with, this Office, together with our law enforcement partners, will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”
According to prosecutors, the conspirators discussed their scheme in Twitter direct messages, with one conspirator stating, “legal trading too hard.” Willner allegedly responded that he would be a “good trading partner.”
Michael Engle, the Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young white-collar practice chairman, and associate Ashley Shapiro previously represented Willner. In an email Wednesday, the pair indicated they were no longer representing him. New counsel could not be identified.
The case, United States v. Willner, 17-mj-00527, has been assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom.