A 17-year-old Florida teen, Graham Ivan Clark accused of pulling off the biggest Twitter hack of all time, gaining access to accounts belonging to Joe Biden, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Barack Obama among others in a bitcoin scam, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday, August 4.
As per court records, the Tampa teen told the Circuit Court Judge Christopher Nash that he was not guilty of the 30 felony counts of fraud which prosecutors have brought against him. Clark is expected to appear in court again on Wednesday, August 5 for another hearing on a request to seek reduction of his $750,000 bond term for his bail.
After the massive Twitter hack on July 15, during which the attackers gained access to the accounts belonging to prominent public figures to post a cryptocurrency scam netting over $100,000 in Bitcoin within a few hours, many national agencies including the FBI, IRS, and Secret Service have launched investigation.
The Department of Justice charged a 19-year-old U.K. resident Mason Sheppard, who used the alias "Chaewon" and 22-year-old Nima Fazeli, nicknamed "Rolex," from Orlando, in connection with the hack. Clark was charged separately with 30 felonies in Florida's Hillsborough County, including 17 counts of communications fraud. According to the court documents, Tampa investigators have termed Clark as the "mastermind" of the operation. A New York Times report described him as an "adept scammer with an explosive temper."
Clark, a student at the Gaither High School until January, remains in jail, while the bail is set at $725,000. As the Tampa teen is facing 30 charges, if found guilty, he could be sentenced up to 200 years in prison.
How Did It Happen?
As per official documents, a Discord user with the name "Kirk#5270" has played a central role in the compromise of Twitter accounts. Fazeli and Sheppard operated as brokers for "Kirk#5270," who claimed in a private message that "I work for Twitter," and said, "I can claim any name, let me know if you're trying to work."
"Kirk#5270," who is believed to be none other than Clark, told Fazeli and Sheppard that he would access and take control of the Twitter accounts in exchange for Bitcoin transfers. Both of them agreed to post the Discord user offer on OGUsers, a forum popular among hackers. A few hours later, it turned into the biggest known Twitter data breach of all time.
OGUsers were hacked in April and the data was made public that included forum postings, private messages, IP addresses, and email account details. After the Twitter hack, the FBI downloaded the data belonging to the OGUsers and tracked down accounts linked to Fazeli and Sheppard.
It was found that both of them made transactions over Coinbase, which is a secure platform that makes it easy to buy, sell, and store cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and more. The platform then provided the FBI agents with the photos of drivers' licenses belonging to Fazeli and Sheppard.
As per court documents, Fazeli faces a charge of computer intrusion. If proven, he can end up in jail for five years, including a fine of $250,000. Sheppard faces charges of computer intrusion, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to launder money. If proven, he can be sentenced to (collectively) 45 years of imprisonment along with a $750,000 fine.
For Clark, this case is an addition in a series of accusations against him for stealing Bitcoin. It was reported that in 2019, Clark was also involved in another case but was let off without any charges. As per Hillsborough prosecutors, in April this year, Clark surrendered $900,000 worth of Bitcoins to victims, and the remaining Bitcoins in Clark's account had been frozen for 11 days. After that, he transferred it to another account "in an effort to disguise his new criminal ventures," stated the prosecution.
The FBI San Francisco Assistant Special Agent in Charge Sanjay Virmani said on July 31 in a statement that even though cyber investigations often take several years, thankfully the joint efforts by "local, state, federal and international law enforcement partners, as well as the private sector" and FBI made quick findings in the investigation.
Virmani said the arrests represent "Just the first step for law enforcement. Our investigation will continue to identify anyone else who may have been involved in these crimes." He also urged the public to come forward if they have any additional information relating to the case. The names of the informers will be kept anonymous.
Virmani said, "Our goal was to identify those responsible" for hacking into the accounts of prominent politicians, industry leaders, and well-known U.S. companies, and "put a stop to their illegal activity, and hold them responsible for these crimes."
To contact FBI San Francisco, you can visit tips.fbi.gov or call 415-553-7400.