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15-year-old hacker and crew of ‘evil geniuses’ accused of $24 million crypto theft

Wolfram Schroll/Bloomberg

A 15-year-old hacker and his crew of “evil computer geniuses” stole nearly $24 million in cryptocurrency from an adviser to blockchain companies, according to a lawsuit filed in New York.

Michael Terpin claims his phone was hacked and his money stolen in 2018 by a ring led by Westchester County, New York, teen Ellis Pinksy as part of a “sophisticated cybercrime spree.” Terpin, the founder and chief executive officer of blockchain advisory firm Transform Group, is suing Pinsky, now 18, for $71 million under a federal racketeering law that allows for triple damages.

“Pinsky and his other cohorts are in fact evil computer geniuses with sociopathic traits who heartlessly ruin their innocent victims’ lives and gleefully boast of their multi-million-dollar heists,” Terpin said in his complaint filed Thursday in federal court in Manhattan.

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Pinsky, of Irvington, New York, couldn’t be reached for comment. John Siffert, a lawyer who has previously represented Pinsky, didn’t immediately respond to email and phone message.

According to Terpin. Pinsky’s ring identifies people with large cryptocurrency holdings and gains control of their phones by bribing or fooling employees of their wireless carriers. The hackers are then able to intercept authentication messages, gain information and drain the victims’ cryptocurrency accounts.

Pinsky has boasted to friends that, starting at age 13, he stole more than $100 million worth of cryptocurrency, hundreds of thousands of dollars of which has been converted into cash stored in his bedroom, the lawsuit alleges. Terpin also claims that, after confronting Pinsky about his alleged role in the theft, the teenager sent him cryptocurrency, cash and a watch with a combined value $2 million. He claims this was an admission by Pinsky that he had stolen from Terpin.

Terpin said Pinsky was helped by Nicholas Truglia, who was charged criminally in the theft in New York in December and faces unrelated charges in California. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases. Terpin won a $75.8 million default judgment against Truglia last year in California state court. Truglia’s lawyer declined to comment.

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Terpin sued AT&T in 2018, claiming it was the wireless carrier’s lax security that allowed Pinsky’s group to gain control of his phone. The company has denied the allegation.

Pierce O’Donnell, a lawyer for Terpin, said federal prosecutors in Manhattan have been told about their allegations against Pinsky. James Margolin, a spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, declined to comment.