Bitcoin exchange operator pleads guilty in U.S. case tied to JPMorgan hack

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Florida man pleaded guilty on Monday to charges that he conspired to operate an illegal bitcoin exchange, which prosecutors said was owned by an Israeli who oversaw a massive scheme to hack companies, including JPMorgan Chase & CoJPM.N.

Anthony Murgio arrives for a hearing at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York, March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Anthony Murgio, 33, entered his plea in federal court in Manhattan to three counts, including conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and conspiracy to commit bank fraud, a month before he was to face trial.

Under a plea agreement, Murgio agreed not to appeal any prison sentence of about 12-1/2 years in prison or less. U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan scheduled his sentencing for June 16.

The Tampa, Florida-resident is one of nine people to face charges following an investigation connected to a data breach that JPMorgan disclosed in 2014 involving records for more than 83 million accounts.

Prosecutors said Murgio operated, which without a license exchanged millions of dollars into bitcoin, including for victims of ransomware, a computer virus that seeks payment, often in the virtual currency, to unlock data it restricts.

Prosecutors said was operated from 2013 to 2015 through several fronts, including one called “Collectables Club,” to trick financial institutions into believing it was a members-only group interested in collectables like stamps. was owned by Israeli citizen Gery Shalon, according to prosecutors, who say he and Maryland-born Joshua Samuel Aaron orchestrated cyber attacks on companies. An attack on JPMorgan resulted in the information of more than 100 million people being stolen.

Prosecutors said the men carried out the cybercrimes to further other schemes with another Israeli, Ziv Orenstein, including pumping up stock prices with sham promotional emails.

Murgio, who was not accused of engaging in the hacking scheme, was tied not only to Shalon but also to Aaron.

Both men attended Florida State University, and in 2008 they formed a business together. On his website, Murgio called Aaron “my friend” and said he “showed me the ropes to online marketing.”

Aaron was deported from Russia in December and taken into U.S. custody, while Shalon and Orenstein were extradited from Israel in June. All three have pleaded not guilty.

Five other individuals have been charged in connection with, including Murgio’s father. Two individuals linked to it are scheduled to face trial on Feb. 6.

The case is U.S. v. Murgio et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-cr-769.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler