Former Canadian Government Employee Extradited to the United States to Face Charges for Dozens of Ransomware Attacks Resulting in the Payment of Tens of Millions of Dollars in Ransoms
Approximately $28,151,582 in Cryptocurrency Seized
A Canadian man was extradited yesterday from Canada to the United States on an indictment returned in the Middle District of Florida that charges him with conspiracy to commit computer fraud and wire fraud, intentional damage to a protected computer, and transmitting a demand in relation to damaging a protected computer arising from his alleged participation in a sophisticated form of ransomware known as NetWalker. NetWalker ransomware has targeted dozens of victims all over the world, including companies, municipalities, hospitals, law enforcement, emergency services, school districts, colleges, and universities. Attacks have specifically targeted the healthcare sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking advantage of the global crisis to extort victims.
According to court documents, Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins, 34, of Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, from April through December 2020, conspired to and did intentionally damage a protected computer and transmit a ransom demand in connection with doing so. The indictment also alleges that the United States intends to forfeit more than $27 million, which is alleged to be traceable to proceeds of the offenses. The defendant will make his initial appearance today in federal court in Tampa before U.S. Magistrate Judge Julie S. Sneed.
“As exemplified by the seizure of cryptocurrency by our Canadian partners, we will use all legally available avenues to pursue seizure and forfeiture of the alleged proceeds of ransomware, whether located domestically or abroad,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The department will not cease to pursue and seize cryptocurrency ransoms, thereby thwarting the attempts of ransomware actors to evade law enforcement through the use of virtual currency.”
“Ransomware is a multi-billion-dollar criminal enterprise that transcends physical and political boundaries. International collaboration is essential to identify the perpetrators of these sophisticated schemes,” said U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg for the Middle District of Florida. “This case illustrates effective international law enforcement cooperation directed at identifying cybercriminals, holding them accountable for their alleged criminal actions, and recovering funds allegedly stolen from their victims.”
“This investigation is yet another example of the outstanding work conducted by the Tampa FBI Cyber program, the Middle District of Florida, the FBI’s Cyber Division, and our law enforcement partners around the world,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Sanjay Virmani of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office. “It is also a reminder that the FBI continues to work tirelessly to identify, locate, and apprehend those who would prey upon the innocent and bring about justice for the citizens of the United States.”
Vachon-Desjardins was extradited to the United States pursuant to the extradition treaty between the United States and Canada. Pursuant to a request submitted by U.S. authorities, Canadian law enforcement officers arrested Vachon-Desjardins in Gatineau, Quebec, on Jan. 27, 2021, and executed a search warrant at Vachon-Desjardins’s home in Gatineau. During the search, officers discovered and seized 719 Bitcoin, valued at approximately $28,151,582 as of today’s date, and $790,000 in Canadian currency.
The FBI’s Tampa Field Office is investigating the case.
Trial Attorney Sonia V. Jimenez of the Justice Department’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carlton C. Gammons and Suzanne Nebesky of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida are prosecuting the case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided valuable assistance in securing Vachon-Desjardin’s arrest and extradition. The U.S. Marshals Service transported Vachon-Desjardins from Canada to the United States.
The investigation benefited from law enforcement cooperation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police, Gatineau Police Service, and National Cybercrime Coordination Unit.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.