Notorious Hacker Kingpin ‘Tank’ Is Finally Going to Prison

For more than a decade, Vyacheslav Igorevich Penchukov—a Ukrainian who used the online hacker name “Tank”—managed to evade cops. When FBI and Ukrainian officials raided his Donetsk apartment in 2010, the place was deserted and Penchukov had vanished. But the criminal spree came to a juddering halt at the end of 2022, when he traveled to Switzerland, was arrested, and extradited to the United States.

Today, at a US federal court in Lincoln, Nebraska, a judge sentenced Penchukov to two concurrent nine-year sentences, after he pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiracy to participate in racketeering and a conspiracy to commit wire fraud. United States District Judge John M. Gerrard also ordered Penchukov to pay more than $73 million, according to court records. The court also ordered three years of supervised release for each count and said they should run concurrently.

Both charges carried a maximum sentence of up to 20 years each. However, according to court documents, the US government and Penchukov’s lawyers both requested a less severe sentence following him signing a plea agreement in February. It is unclear what the terms of the plea deal include. At the time, documents show, Penchukov could also face having to repay up to $70 million. “I understand this, but I don’t have such amounts of money,” he said in court earlier this year.

The US prosecution of Penchukov—who has been on the FBI’s “most wanted” cyber list for more than a decade—is a rare blow against one of the most well-connected leaders of a prolific 2010s cybercrime gang. It also highlights the ongoing challenges Western law enforcement officials face when taking action against Eastern European cybercriminals—particularly those based in Russia or Ukraine, which do not have extradition agreements with the US.

Ahead of the sentencing, the Department of Justice refused to comment on the case, and the FBI and Penchukov’s lawyers did not respond to WIRED’s requests for comment.

When the Ukrainian pled guilty in February—a number of charges were dropped following him signing the plea agreement—he admitted to being one of the leaders of the Jabber Zeus hacking group, starting in 2009, that used the Zeus malware to infect computers and steal people’s bank account information. The group used the details to log into accounts, withdraw money, and then send it to various money mules—stealing tens of millions from small US and European businesses.

“The defendant played a crucial role, a leadership role, in this scheme by directing and coordinating the exchange of stolen banking credentials and money mules,” prosecutors said in court earlier this year. They would steal thousands from victim companies, often draining their accounts.

Penchukov, who was also a well-known DJ in Ukraine, also admitted to a key role organizing the IcedID (also known Bokbot) malware, which collected the victim’s financial details and allowed ransomware to be deployed on systems. He was involved from November 2018 to at least February 2021, officials say. Investigators found he kept a spreadsheet detailing the $19.9 million income IcedID made in 2021.

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