New wire fraud charges against St. Petersburg trolls allege that they stole the identities of U.S. citizens to open crypto accounts.
The U.S. filed criminal charges against Russian national Artem Lifshits for his management of an affiliate of the infamous Internet Research Agency, which U.S. authorities accuse of interfering in the 2016 election.
The new complaint alleges that Lifshits has managed the translator department of Project Lakhta since 2017, in which capacity he illegally obtained U.S. identification documents in order to use “the means of identification of United States persons to open bank accounts, PayPal accounts, and cryptocurrency accounts.”
The charge is conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The U.S. Department of Justice says these accounts were a means for Lifshits and his colleagues to fund both Project Lakhta and “personal enrichment.”
As to Project Lakhta’s operations, testimony from a Secret Service investigator claims that it was part of a widespread trolling operation upon the American people:
From in and around April 2014, Project Lakhta’s Translator Department focused on influencing the United States population. The Translator Department conducted operations on social media platforms, such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The Translator Department’s primary goal was to sow discord in the United States political system, incite civil unrest, and polarize Americans by promoting socially divisive issues, with particular emphasis on racial divisions and inequality in the United States
The complaint did not name the specific crypto exchanges that Lifshits and Project Lakhta are said to have accessed. However, it says that at least one exchange considered itself a victim of the fraud for having had false documents presented to it as a means of passing its Know-Your-Customer requirements.
The Secret Service’s charges comes just hours after Lifshits and several coworkers at Project Lakhta appeared on the Treasury’s sanctions list alongside their respective crypto wallet addresses.