Australian Couple Admits “Serious Cyber Hacking Offenses”

An Australian couple has admitted stealing personally identifiable information (PII) and using it to commit money laundering and deception offenses that netted them millions of dollars.

Jason Bran Lees, aged 33, and Emily Jane Walker, aged 29, were arrested in Adelaide in February 2020 along with a then 31-year-old unidentified co-conspirator who had moved from Adelaide to Sydney. 

The couple has since pleaded guilty to dozens of charges, including dishonest dealings with documents and being in possession of a computer virus with intent to commit a serious computer crime.

An Australian court heard that between July 2018 and February 2020, Lees and Walker hacked into the payroll documents of multiple businesses and organizations to steal information that included names, addresses, and birth dates. 

They used the data illegally obtained from more than 7,000 identity documents to establish hundreds of fraudulent bank accounts into which they diverted funds that were subsequently laundered into crypto-currency.

Among the stolen documents police found in the couple's possession were drivers' licenses and Medicare cards. 

Lees' lawyer, Andy Ey, said his client used "significant, sophisticated" malware to carry out his criminal activities and that his case involved laundering millions of dollars into Bitcoin. 

"This involved a computer program that would go in and divert a sum of funds," said Ey. "The computer program acted somewhat autonomously in that it would target whatever amount the business had in those accounts.

"Sometimes it was a very significant amount but as soon as those larger amounts were attempted to be transferred by this computer program to the other accounts that were created falsely, the bank would freeze on the funds immediately because it was so suspicious."

The investigation remains ongoing; however, police believe the couple stole at least $11m.

Prosecutors are seeking custodial sentences for the couple, who have been denied access to the internet since being granted house detention bail shortly after their arrest. 

"The offenses to which the defendants have now pleaded guilty are serious — cyber hacking offenses, for want of a better word — resulting in thefts," prosecutor Alex Rathbone told the court.

The couple’s co-conspirator, who has not been named in the Australian press, was sentenced last week to 11 years in jail with a non-parole period of six years and six months.

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