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Seventh New York defendant pleads not guilty in cyber heist

By Jessica Dye

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A seventh defendant pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges he participated in a global ATM heist that stole $45 million from two Middle East banks.

Elvis Rodriguez, 24, was accused of being a member of a "casher" crew that withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars in New York as part of the heist.

Six other members of the New York crew pleaded not guilty last week. An eighth person, Alberto Lajud-Pena, 23, described by prosecutors as the leader of the crew, was murdered in the Dominican Republic on April 27, police there said.

U.S. prosecutors, who announced the arrests last Thursday, have not said where the global gang was based, citing an ongoing investigation.

No further details emerged at Tuesday's arraignment. Rodriguez, in a tan jumpsuit, said "good afternoon" in Spanish. His lawyer, Patrick Brackley, said "not guilty" when asked for a plea.

According to prosecutors, the global gang used prepaid MasterCard Inc debit cards issued by Bank Muscat of Oman and by National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah PSC (RAKBANK) of the United Arab Emirates.

Hackers broke into payment processing companies used by the two banks and raised the balances and withdrawal limits on the cards. Crews in 27 countries then withdrew $5 million between December 21 and December 22 and $40 million between February 19 and February 20.

Rodriguez was an active member of the New York crew and was caught on surveillance images making withdrawals on December 22, prosecutors said in a complaint against him released last week.

Rodriguez is also alleged to have been involved in transferring money obtained during the heists. An email sent in December to an address in Russia associated with a group that specializes in laundering proceeds of criminal activity made a reference to a wire transfer made by Rodriguez, according to court papers.

Another email obtained by investigators mentioned a trip apparently made by Rodriguez and two other unidentified individuals to Bucharest, Romania, in early January, where they gave the organizers of the December 21 operation $300,000 in cash.

Rodriguez was arrested March 27 while attempting to flee to the Dominican Republic, prosecutors said.

Brackley said after the hearing that Rodriguez is fighting the charges. A $250,000 bail application has been made but not yet granted, he said.

Rodriguez was not arraigned with the other six because his lawyer was unavailable, prosecutors said at the time.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the heist shows how easily financial crimes can be coordinated and committed in cyberspace. "It demonstrates the kind and scope of financial crimes that are enabled in a network-connected world," she told the Reuters Cybersecurity Summit in Washington.

The only other country to have announced arrests in the case is Germany, where police said two Dutch citizens were caught withdrawing money at cash machines in Dusseldorf on February 19.

(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Eddie Evans and Nick Zieminski)

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