Colorado Woman Pleads Guilty in SIM Swapping Scheme That Led to $400M FTX Crypto Hack

Crime, News | June 3, 2024 By:

On Thursday, May 16, 2024, a Colorado woman pleaded guilty to her involvement in a complex SIM-swapping scheme that led to over $400 million worth of cryptocurrency being stolen from the failed cryptocurrency exchange FTX.

Emily Hernandez, 23, from Colorado Springs entered a plea in federal court in Washington, D.C. to charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. She faces up to 20 years in prison for the wire fraud charge, though preliminary guidelines suggest she will likely receive a sentence between 41 and 51 months. Hernandez is cooperating with investigators.

The SIM-swapping scheme was allegedly orchestrated by Robert Powell, a 22-year-old man living in a mansion in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. SIM swapping involves criminals gaining control of a phone number by fraudulently transferring it to a new device. Hernandez admitted to meeting with one of Powell’s accomplices, Carter Rohn from Indiana, in October 2022 and joining the conspiracy.

Prosecutors say Powell, using the online aliases “R$” and “ElSwapo1”, directed a series of SIM swaps beginning in March 2021. Hernandez provided her photograph for fake IDs used to target victims. In November 2022, she traveled to Utah at Powell’s direction and participated in multiple SIM-swapping incidents. On November 11th, Powell sent Hernandez and Rohn details of an FTX employee to target in El Paso, Texas, including the victim’s full name and Social Security number.

Hernandez went to a cell phone store using a fraudulent ID with her photo and the victim’s information to gain access to the victim’s mobile account. She had the number transferred to a new device. Within hours, over $400 million worth of Bitcoin was stolen from FTX accounts. The theft coincided with FTX’s collapse into bankruptcy amid scandal surrounding its founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who was later sentenced to 25 years in prison for fraud.

That same day, Hernandez also stole nearly $600,000 from another victim following Powell’s instructions. She helped the group carry out similar hacks in Colorado and New Mexico, according to her plea. Hernandez was paid $2,500 for her role in the scheme. Powell and Rohn have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

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