Canadian ransomware hacker sentenced to 20 years in US prison – Reuters

A former Canadian government employee turned ransomware hacker has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in the United States. A Federal Court judge called it “the worst case he’s ever seen.”

A visibly outraged Judge William F. Young described Sebastian Vashon-Desjardins of Gatineau, Quebec as “Jesse James meets the 21st century,” referring to the infamous 19th-century American criminal when he backed out of his decision in Tampa, State Florida, Tuesday.

In June, Vashon-Desjardins, a former IT professional with Canada’s Department of Public Services and Procurement, pleaded guilty to four counts, including computer fraud and sending a request for a damaged computer to the United States.

Vashon-Desjardins, 35, was one of the most active affiliates of Netwalker, a Russian-speaking ransomware crime ring that was active during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A group of affiliates hacked into the computer systems of medical districts, businesses and schools and demanded a ransom in exchange for the return of encrypted data. If the requests are not satisfied, their data will be published on the Netwalker blog, hosted on the dark web.

According to U.S. Attorney Carlton Gammons, Netwalker targeted 400 victims in over 30 countries and raised $40 million in ransom, calling the victimization “staggering”. He said that a third of the ransoms paid were related to attacks in which Vashon-Desjardins took part.

“I would give you life,” the judge says.

Gammons said the pre-sentencing report did not reveal anything remarkable that would suggest a weighting in favor of a lesser sentence. He said that Vashon-Desjardins had good parents, was educated, had no mental problems and did not use drugs, and had no financial difficulties.

“If you were on trial, I would give you life,” said Jung, who sentenced Vashon-Desjardins to 240 months in prison, longer than the prosecution demanded.

Vachon-Desjardin, dressed in orange overalls and glasses, with short hair and a dejected air, listened in silence as the judge explained his decision.

Jung said he was driven by two key factors: a desire to keep others from committing similar crimes, and Vashon-Desjardins’ “terrible behavior”.

Defense attorney Mark O’Brien earlier in the trial tried to argue for a lighter sentence, citing his client’s decision to recuse himself from trial and plead guilty, his remorse for his crimes, and restitution to the victims.

He described Vashon-Desjardins as polite, cooperative, and one of his favorite clients from his years of practice.

Case settled in Canada

Following his arrest in January 2021 in Gatineau, the RCMP raided Vashon-Desjardins’ home, recovered $28 million in bitcoin current value, and confiscated $500,000 in cash.

A year later, he pleaded guilty in a Brampton, Ontario courtroom to ransomware crimes against 17 Canadian businesses, organizations, schools and one municipality. For these crimes, he received seven years in prison.

In May 2021, he was extradited to the US to face charges in Tampa.

Vashon-Desjardins agreed to confiscate the money he earned as the proceeds of his crimes. He chose not to provide any information about his accomplices.

He will return to federal court in January for a hearing to determine restitution payments to the victims.

The case of Sébastien Vachon-Desjardins is the focus of the upcoming documentary The Fifth Estate, which will air Thursday, November 10 at 9:00 pm (9:30 am in the Netherlands) on CBC-TV and Gemme de Radio-Canada.

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