Perth man Zhenya Tsvetnenko has been sentenced to eight years in a US federal prison for his role in a multimillion-dollar text message scam.
Most important points:
- Zhenya Tsvetnenko was extradited to the US earlier this year over the scam
- US mobile phone consumers faced unauthorized charges on their bills
- Tsvetnenko’s prison sentence exceeds what prosecutors had hoped for
The Russian-born former wealthy thrush and fixture on Perth’s social scene pleaded guilty in February after a long and protracted legal battle.
He was originally indicted in July 2016 and fought the charges before agreeing to extradite to the US in January.
He personally made $15.4 million from the scam, money that he has since repaid.
Tsvetnenko, a tech entrepreneur who rose to prominence in Perth in the late 2000s, once had a fortune worth $107 million.
U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres sentenced Tsvetnenko this morning Australian time, receiving a jail term that exceeds what U.S. prosecutors had hoped.
Tsvetnenko’s lawyers had argued for his release under the time allotted, nearly four years.
Tsvetnenko ‘pays high price’, US authorities say
From 2012 to 2013, Tsvetnenko and his co-conspirators defrauded hundreds of thousands of cell phone users in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, by placing unauthorized charges on their cell phone bills.
The practice — known as “auto-subscribe” — caused U.S. consumers to charge $9.99 per month for services such as “horoscopes, celebrity gossip, or trivia facts” without their knowledge or consent.
Often the bills came back monthly unless consumers actively told their phone company they wanted out of service.
Justice Department attorney Damian Williams said Tsvetnenko and his co-defendants “made a fortune” from the scam.
They then laundered the proceeds through shell companies.
“Tsvetnenko is paying a heavy price for his mobile scam as he has already paid back more than $15 million in forfeiture and will now spend 98 months in federal prison,” Mr Williams said.
Tsvetnenko’s lawyer declined to comment when the ABC contacted him.