A New York man was indicted Wednesday for allegedly participating in a kidnapping effort that resulted in a victim being robbed at gunpoint of nearly $2 million worth of the cryptocurrency Ether, according to the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.
Louis Meza, 35, is accused of partaking in the robbery and was charged with grand larceny, kidnapping, robbery, criminal use of a firearm, criminal possession of stolen property, burglary, computer trespassing and computer tampering.
According to the District Attorney’s office, Meza targeted an acquaintance of his who he knew to be in possession of a large amount of cryptocurrency. Meza invited the unnamed person over to his apartment on Nov. 4. When the person was ready to leave, Meza insisted on calling a car service to provide a ride.
When the victim entered the minivan that he believed was from the car service, he was met by another man who was waiting inside the vehicle with a gun. With the victim held at gunpoint, the man demanded the he hand over his wallet, house keys and cellphone.
Those keys were apparently provided to Meza, as video surveillance footage obtained by law enforcement allegedly shows Meza entering the apartment building of the victim. Meza is seen later on the tape leaving the apartment complex with a box in hand that is believed to have contained the victim’s digital wallet.
Digital wallets are popular tools for storing cryptocurrencies, as they provide a solution that removes the currency from online exchanges that have a history of being hacked. Earlier this month, more than $60 million in Bitcoin was stolen from a popular cryptocurrency mining marketplace called NiceHash after a security breach.
The District Attorney’s office does not make clear what kind of wallet the victim used but it could have been a physical hard drive or papers with a key needed to unlock an online wallet. The wallet adds an additional layer of protection but, as evidenced by this case, is still subject to theft.
After making off with the victim’s digital wallet, Meza transferred approximately $1.8 million worth of the cryptocurrency Ether from the victim’s account to his own.
Sometime after Meza managed to carry out his theft of the cryptocurrency stash, the victim was able to get free of his captor and called 911. Meza was eventually taken into custody, though his accomplice has not yet been caught.
“Hackers, data breaches, and fraud aren’t the only threats to an individual’s wealth,” District Attorney Vance said in a statement. “This case demonstrates the increasingly common intersection between cyber and violent crime-the defendant is charged with coordinating an elaborate kidnapping, armed robbery, and burglary to gain access to the victim’s digital wallet and the significant funds it contained. We can expect this type of crime to become increasingly common as cryptocurrency values surge upward.”
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