Eight suspected members of a gang of financial hackers that stole hundreds of millions if not billions of pesos from Mexican banks were arrested in León, Guanajuato, this week.
Federal authorities also seized 27 luxury vehicles, motorcycles, more than 20 million pesos (US $1 million) in cash, drugs, weapons, a Federal Police uniform, computers and mobile telephones during raids carried out at 11 properties in the city on Wednesday.
The operation involved the simultaneous execution of multiple search and arrest warrants.
The Federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) said in a statement that its agents arrested six men and two women without the use of violence and with complete respect for their human rights.
They were transferred to Mexico City where they are in the custody of SEIDO, the organized crime unit of the FGR.
Among the people detained was a man identified as Héctor Ortiz Solares, who is believed to be the leader of the hacking group known as Bandidos Revolution Team.
Authorities said that Ortiz – also known as El H-1, El Patrón and El Bandido Boss – was the chief logistics operator of the organization.
He and the other suspected gang members allegedly recruited tech experts to facilitate their criminal activities.
Ortiz’s personal illicit income is estimated to have been between 50 and 100 million pesos (US $2.6 million to $5.2 million) per month, and according to authorities he was planning to buy a professional, third-division soccer team.
The gang boss allegedly employed eight personal bodyguards, each of whom was paid a monthly salary of about 100,000 pesos (US$5,200). It is unclear where they were at the time of his arrest.
A private security company that employs former members of the military was reportedly contracted to guard homes where the criminal gang worked and warehouses where its assets were stored.
During the past five years, the hacking group is alleged to have used malware to infiltrate banks’ electronic interbank payment systems, known in Mexico as the SPEI.
Once inside a bank’s system, the hackers would make unauthorized withdrawals and deposit the funds in the accounts of third parties.
The account holders were paid commissions to withdraw the illegally deposited funds and pass them on to the criminal group, which reportedly opened its own accounts in several Mexican states and invested some of its ill-gotten gains in tax havens including Panama and the Cayman Islands.
Funds were also used to purchase luxury properties in Mexican tourist destinations and in foreign countries, according to a report in the newspaper Milenio.
Infiltrating the banks’ SPEI was not the only modus operandi that the group allegedly used.
The criminals also hacked into systems that controlled bank ATMs after which they would infect them with viruses that allowed them to program large, unauthorized withdrawals from specific machines at a certain time on a designated day. The group is suspected of stealing hundreds of millions of pesos in that way.
In addition, the gang is accused of cloning bank cards that were used to make purchases of items such as home appliances and alcohol, which were subsequently resold at reduced prices.
That money was used to purchase more properties, luxury cars made by Ferrari, Mercedes Benz, Audi, McLaren and Lamborghini, and computer equipment that was used to breach bank systems.
The arrests on Wednesday followed a criminal complaint by the bank BBVA Bancomer of electronic fraud.
Authorities began an investigation that identified the suspected leader and members of the gang and federal agents subsequently began tracking their movements.
Surveillance methods included the use of drones to locate and monitor homes within five exclusive residential estates in the north of León where the criminals lived and worked.
The eight people arrested are not responsible for a cyber-attack last year that cost five financial institutions 300 million pesos (US $15.6 million), federal officials said.