PHOENIX, Ariz. – Joshua Polloso Epifaniou, 22, of Nicosia, Cyprus was sentenced today in the Northern District of Georgia by U.S. District Judge Mark H. Cohen to 12 months and one day in prison, on top of the nearly four years Epifaniou has already served in custody since his arrest in Cyprus in May 2017. Epifaniou pleaded guilty to federal computer fraud charges brought in Arizona and the Northern District of Georgia. As a result of his conviction, Epifaniou forfeited $389,113 and 70,000 euros to the government and paid $600,000 in restitution to the victims of his fraud. Epifaniou is the first Cypriot national ever extradited from Cyprus to the United States.
“Cybercrime is a threat to both our individual privacy and to the security of American companies,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Anthony Martin. “We will work diligently alongside our law enforcement partners to ensure any perpetrators are identified and brought to justice.”
Between October 2014 and May 2017, Epifaniou hacked websites and monitored online traffic to identify targets for extortion. After selecting target websites, Epifaniou worked with co-conspirators to steal personally identifiable information from the websites’ databases. Epifaniou then used proxy servers located in foreign countries to log into email accounts and send messages to the websites threatening to leak the sensitive data unless a ransom was paid in cryptocurrency.
Victims of Epifaniou’s computer terrorism included an online sports news website owned by Turner Broadcasting System Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia, a free online game publisher based in Irvine, California, a hardware company based in New York, New York, an online employment website headquartered in Innsbrook, Virginia, and a consumer report website, Ripoff Report, headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona.
After extorting Ripoff Report, Epifaniou also hacked into its website to remove online complaints at the request of paying clients. Epifaniou and his co-conspirator, Pierre Zarokian, charged clients between $1,000 and $5,000 for each complaint removal and falsely told clients that the removals were court-ordered. Epifaniou was charged by indictment in Arizona in CR-17-1280-SMB and Zarokian was sentenced last year in CR-18-1626-MTL.
“This individual was preying on people for his own personal gain,” said Sean Kaul, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Phoenix Field Office. “FBI agents, analysts and support staff worked tirelessly on this case. This investigation should send a strong message that the FBI has a long reach and no matter where you are, we will continue to leverage all available resources and utilize partnerships in the United States and foreign partnerships to identify criminals in an effort to bring justice to victims of crime.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation in this case. Foreign law enforcement partners also made significant contributions to the investigation, including the Office for Combating Cybercrime of the Cyprus Police. The U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the District of Arizona and for the Northern District of Georgia handled the prosecution, with assistance from the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs.
In the early hours of July 17, Joshua Epiphaniou – half Filipino, half Greek Cypriot – duly became the first ever Cypriot citizen to be extradited to the US where he faces charges for cyber-crimes in Arizona and Georgia, allegedly committed from his bedroom in Nicosia when he was still a minor.
Epiphaniou had been held in custody for three years without a trial and without a conviction for any offence, said one of his lawyers, Elena Erotokritou.
It is the saddest of ironies that the young computer whizz, who also has Asperger’s, effectively signed his own ‘death warrant’ by giving up on the tortuous appeal that was in progress over his extradition order.
That he took such drastic action, against the advice of Erotokritou, is the result of a justice system that abandoned him, she said.
“Had he been born into a well off, high society Cypriot family, it would have been different,” Erotokritou said.
On November 18, 2019 – two-and-a-half years after he was first arrested – the judge presiding over the US’ extradition application ruled that Epiphaniou should stand trial in the US.
Epiphaniou’s lawyers immediately lodged a supreme court appeal against the judgement as well as an appeal against the rejection of a habeas corpus application.
But the years in custody appear to have worn away at Epiphaniou – as he became increasingly anxious and depressed.
In the end, Epiphaniou withdrew his appeal which set in motion his extradition to the US last week.
“When the law gives you a chance, take it to the very end,” a saddened and frustrated Erotokritou told the Sunday Mail.
For Epiphaniou, however, the decision to withdraw his appeal was one of a desire to reach some form of resolution – either way.
Michael Chambers, another lawyer for Epiphaniou, can understand the young man’s reasoning.
“[He] withdrew his appeal in Cyprus as he was frustrated and fed up that this issue was just going on and on,” he said.
“He was in custody for so many years, he wanted to get the whole thing over and done with – go to the US and either serve his time over there or come back.”