Washington, D.C./ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on May 17, 2024
Arizonan Woman and Ukrainian Accomplice Charged in Sprawling North Korean IT Worker FraudSource: Google Street View

An Arizona woman and a Ukrainian man are among those smacked with charges in what the Department of Justice calls the "largest case ever charged" involving a scheme to sneak North Korean IT workers into American jobs by using stolen U.S. identities. In a sweeping sting, court documents released yesterday reveal a plot to infiltrate over 300 U.S. companies, including Fortune 500 giants, to generate income for the isolated regime of Kim Jong-un.

Christina Marie Chapman, 49, of Litchfield Park, Arizona, was busted after allegedly conspiring to create a digital masquerade, hosting remote operations crammed with "laptop farms" to make it look like foreign IT workers were clocking in stateside, the Justice Department reported. The operation wasn’t just a lucrative con. It was a security threat, with attempts to embed these workers deeply even within the corridors of U.S. government agencies, although with limited success.

Alongside Chapman, Ukrainian national Oleksandr Didenko, 27, was charged with spinning a separate yet interwoven web of deceit — an online infrastructure based in the U.S. selling fake accounts and stolen identities, as detailed in the indictment. "The charges in this case should be a wakeup call for American companies and government agencies that employ remote IT workers," said Nicole M. Argentieri, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, in a statement obtained by the Justice Department.

The FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation led the chase, with multiple arrests, including Didenko's in Poland on May 7, and a quest to extradite him to the U.S. Assistant Director Kevin Vorndran of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division pointed out that these charges "clearly demonstrate how the FBI and its partners will employ every resource at our disposal to bring to justice anyone who helps North Korea evade sanctions."

In a chilling account of cyber infiltration, this swoop uncovered "laptop farms" throughout the U.S. in a gambit to mask the true origins of these North Korean IT workers. Authorities said the overseas workers used proxy computers and U.S. payment platforms to bleed millions from U.S. businesses. According to the Justice Department, the indictment details a calculated assault on the identity and security of American citizens and constitutes an attack on the nation's economy and infrastructure.

Unsettling still, the indictment outlined how the DPRK's digital mercenaries cast a wide net over various industry sectors, from technology and finance to retail and entertainment. The elaborate ruse painted a picture of a silent and sophisticated drain on American ingenuity and security, with a staggering scope and scale of compromised identities and revenue channeled to North Korea.

Repercussions for the accused are severe. Chapman alone faces up to 97.5 years behind bars. Meanwhile, the hunt for accomplices continues, with rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to their capture, further underscoring the seriousness with which U.S. authorities are taking the issue.