Vladimir Drinkman, a Muscovite charged in the biggest data-breach prosecution in U.S. history, pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he conspired to steal 160 million credit card numbers.
Drinkman, 34, was shackled and wore a yellow jail jumpsuit on Tuesday as he appeared for the first time in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, where he was indicted. He arrived in the U.S. on Feb. 13 after losing an extradition fight in Amsterdam, where he was arrested in 2012 while vacationing.
He's accused with four other men of conspiring to pillage credit card numbers from Heartland Payment Systems Inc., 7- Eleven Inc., the Hannaford Bros. Co. grocery chain and at least 14 other companies from 2005 to 2012. Prosecutors said Drinkman helped find vulnerabilities in information systems and used malware to steal passwords and credit-card numbers.
"Over the coming weeks and months, Drinkman will finally be able to receive and confront what the government claims is the evidence against him," defense attorneys Bart Stapert and Florian Miedel said in a statement after the hearing. "He looks forward to thoroughly litigating these charges."
A July 2013 indictment unsealed in Newark characterized Drinkman as a "sophisticated hacker" who specialized in penetrating corporate networks and harvesting data. Together, the conspirators cost just three of the companies more than $300 million, according to the indictment.
"Cyber criminals conceal themselves in one country and steal information located in another country, impacting victims around the world," U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said in a statement. "Hackers often take advantage of international borders and differences in legal systems, hoping to evade extradition to face justice."
U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Clark III ordered Drinkman held without bail and set a tentative trial date of April 27.
"Most of all, Mr. Drinkman seeks to return to his home in Russia as soon as possible, so his 3-year-old daughter will not grow up without knowing her father," Stapert and Miedel said. "That remains the primary focus for the defense."
Drinkman's charged in an 11-count indictment with conspiracy to gain unauthorized access to computers, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, unauthorized access to computers and wire fraud. He faces as long as 30 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.
Drinkman fought extradition to the U.S. from a Dutch prison for 2 1/2 years. He said in a Bloomberg News interview published last month that he passed his time reading the books that gave rise to HBO's "Game of Thrones." He said in the interview, his first with U.S.-based media, that he's innocent of the charges.
"They show me as a leader of a group that was damaging U.S. strategic financial infrastructure for 10 years," he said. Drinkman spoke from a prison psychiatric ward where his lawyer said he was transferred as a preventive measure after an unfavorable November ruling in the extradition case.
"I don't believe the process in the U.S. will be a fair one," Drinkman said.
Another Moscow man under indictment, Dmitriy Smilianets, 31, was arrested in Amsterdam as he vacationed with Drinkman.
Smilianets, who pleaded not guilty to all charges against him in August 2013, sits in jail in Morristown, New Jersey, mastering Spanish, studying Chinese and considering whether to accept a plea deal, according to his father.
Three other men remain at large: Alexandr Kalinin, 28, of St. Petersburg; Roman Kotov, 33, of Moscow; and Mikhail Rytikov, 27, of Odessa, Ukraine.
The case is U.S. v. Drinkman, 09-cr-00626, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).