Indian pleads guilty in overseas stock hacking scheme

The group of hackers compromised brokerage accounts, then pumped up the prices of stocks

An Indian national pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy and aggravated identity-theft charges related to an international fraud scheme to hack into online brokerage accounts in the U.S. and use them to manipulate stock prices, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Jaisankar Marimuthu, 35, a native of Chennai, India, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, securities fraud, computer fraud and aggravated identity theft, and to one count of aggravated identity theft in U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska.

Marimuthu, who was arrested in Hong Kong and extradited to the U.S., faces up to seven years in prison and a fine of US$500,000. Sentencing is scheduled for April 26.

Marimuthu was part of a conspiracy operated out of Thailand and India from February to December 2006, the DOJ said in a press release.

Marimuthu and his associates hacked into U.S. brokerage accounts and made large purchases of thinly traded securities, the DOJ said.

After the hackers had pumped up the price of the securities through the bogus trading activity, they sold their holdings at a profit, the agency said.

The DOJ has identified at least 95 customers and nine brokerage firms in the U.S. as victims.

Co-defendant Thirugnanam Ramanathan, 37, pleaded guilty on June 2, 2008, to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, securities fraud, computer fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Following his arrest in Hong Kong, Ramanathan was extradited to the U.S. in 2007 and sentenced in the Nebraska court to two years in prison. Co-defendant Chockalingham Ramanathan, 36, remains charged on one count of conspiracy, eight counts of computer fraud, six counts of wire fraud, two counts of securities fraud and six counts of aggravated identity theft.

Chockalingham Ramanathan remains at large.

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