Vladimir Kats, 41, of Brooklyn, N.Y., pleaded guilty today in federal court before U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote to money laundering and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. The charges stem from his role in running Liberty Reserve, a company that operated one of the world’s most widely used digital currency services and allegedly laundered more than $6 billion in suspected proceeds of crimes.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York made the announcement.
“Vladimir Kats, by his own admission, helped to create and operate an anonymous digital currency system that provided cybercriminals and others with the means to launder criminal proceeds on an unprecedented scale,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman. “His conviction reinforces what we said when Liberty Reserve was first brought down: banking systems that allow criminals to conduct illegal transactions anonymously will not be allowed to stand, and professional money launderers will be brought to justice.”
“As a co-founder and operator of Liberty Reserve, Vladimir Kats served as a global banker for criminals, giving them an anonymous, online forum to hide the proceeds of their illegal and dangerous activities,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “With his guilty plea today, we take a significant step toward punishing those responsible for creating and running this international den of cybercrime.”
According to court records, Liberty Reserve was incorporated in Costa Rica in 2006 and billed itself as the Internet’s “largest payment processor and money transfer system.” Liberty Reserve allegedly was created and structured, and operated, to help users conduct illegal transactions anonymously and launder the proceeds of their crimes, and it emerged as one of the principal money transfer agents used by cybercriminals around the world to distribute, store, and launder the proceeds of their illegal activity. Liberty Reserve allegedly was used extensively for illegal purposes, functioning as the bank of choice for the criminal underworld because it provided an infrastructure that enabled cybercriminals to conduct anonymous and untraceable financial transactions.
According to the indictment, before being shut down by the government in May 2013, Liberty Reserve had more than one million users worldwide, including more than 200,000 users in the United States, who conducted approximately 55 million transactions through its system and allegedly laundered more than $6 billion in suspected proceeds of crimes, including credit card fraud, identity theft, investment fraud, computer hacking, child pornography, and narcotics trafficking. Kats co-founded Liberty Reserve and helped operate the company until in or about 2009.
Kats was arrested in Brooklyn in May 2013 and pleaded guilty today to one count of conspiring to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of conspiring to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of receiving child pornography, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison; and one count of marriage fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.
This case is being investigated by the Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance from the Secret Service’s New York Electronic Crimes Task Force. The Judicial Investigation Organization in Costa Rica; the National High Tech Crime Unit in the Netherlands, the Financial and Economic Crime Unit of the Spanish National Police; the Cyber Crime Unit at the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation; and the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office also provided assistance.
This case is being prosecuted jointly by the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section (AFMLS) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Complex Frauds Unit and Asset Forfeiture Unit in the Southern District of New York, with assistance from the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.
Trial Attorney Kevin Mosely of AFMLS and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Serrin Turner and Andrew Goldstein of the Southern District of New York are in charge of the prosecution, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Magdo is in charge of the forfeiture aspects of the case.
The charges in the indictment against Kats’s co-defendants remain pending and are merely accusations. Those defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.