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Somerset and Wiltshire men jailed over £5.7m cyber fraud

TWO men – from Somerset and Wiltshire – have been jailed after stealing more than £5.7 million of cryptocurrency in an online fraud.

Jake Lee, 38, from Charlcombe in Bath and 42-year-old James Heppel, from Staverton in Wiltshire, both pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit fraud.

Lee was sentenced to four years and Heppel to 15 months behind bars at Bristol Crown Court on Friday (May 3).

The pair carried out the fraud by spoofing the domain of online cryptocurrency exchange blockchain.com to access victims’ Bitcoin wallets, stealing their funds and login details.

A total of 55 victims have been recorded, in 26 different countries, during an investigation by the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SWROCU).

The operation seized £835,000, including a suitcase containing £551,000 in cash voluntarily handed over by Lee in January, as well as £64,000 worth of cryptocurrency, a Banksy print worth £60,000 and three vehicles.

A confiscation order for nearly £1m was made against Lee, which will be used to compensate the victims.

DS Matt Brain, from SWROCU’s Regional Cyber Crime Unit, said: “Our investigation started back in 2018 after colleagues at Avon and Somerset Police arrested Lee on suspicion of money laundering.

“As well as £24,000 cash, officers from the force seized digital devices and three laminated Bitcoin wallet recovery seeds.

“At the same time, our unit had started an investigation into a cryptocurrency scam reported by a Wiltshire victim who had £11,000 worth of Bitcoin from his Blockchain wallet.

Money seized by officers involved in the probe. Picture: SWROCU

Money seized by officers involved in the probe. Picture: SWROCU

“We took on the investigation into Lee and when we analysed his devices, we established he was a central figure involved in a sophisticated domain spoofing fraud and worked to identify numerous victims.

“Mapping out Lee and Heppel’s offending and links to other suspects and cryptocurrency exchanges all over the world was complex work, but the fact they both pleaded guilty to all counts, negating the need for a six-week trial, shows the strength of evidence we secured against them.”

Pamela Jain, a specialist prosecutor with the Serious Economic Organised Crime International Directorate of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Jake Lee and James Heppel defrauded people in 26 countries, including 11 victims in the UK, by diverting Bitcoin into wallets over which they had control.

“This was a complex and time-consuming prosecution which involved enquiries with numerous victims and prosecuting authorities all over the world.

“A substantial sum of money and assets have been seized. In addition to his prison sentence, the court also ordered Jake Lee to pay almost £1 million by way of a confiscation order which will enable the victims to be compensated. Confiscation proceedings against James Heppel are ongoing.

“Compensation orders force criminals to handover available money and assets or face having time added onto their prison sentence.”

For advice on how to stay secure online visit Cyber Aware at ncsc.gov.uk.

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