NEW YORK–A four-count indictment was returned Wednesday charging a self-described day trader with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and computer intrusions, securities fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, federal prosecutors say
As alleged in the indictment, between September 2014 and May 2017, Joseph Willner, 42, of Ambler, Pennsylvania, and others conspired to hack into victims’ online securities brokerage accounts and used them to place unauthorized trades, at times fraudulently liquidating existing positions in the victims’ accounts in order to fund the unauthorized trades.
The indictment further alleges that, as a part of the conspiracy, the defendant used brokerage accounts in his name to place “short sale” offers for publicly-traded companies’ stock at artificially high, above-market prices. Simultaneously, Willner’s co-conspirators hacked into victims’ online brokerage accounts and used them to place buy orders for the stock at the artificially high prices, matching Willner’s short sale offers. After using the victims’ accounts to purchase the stock, Willner and his co-conspirators then re-purchased the stock from the victims’ accounts at market or below-market prices. The series of fraudulent trades usually took place within minutes, and Willner immediately profited based on the difference between his artificially high short sale price, and the lower price at which he subsequently re-purchased the stock.
According to the indictment, while discussing the scheme in private messages on Twitter, one of Willner’s co-conspirators said: “legal trading too hard.” Willner responded that he would be a “good trading partner.” As a result of Willner and his co-conspirators’ alleged actions, the affected brokerage firms lost more than $2 million.