An Australian tech tycoon could be extradited to the United States amid allegations of involvement in an alleged $65million mobile phone scam.
Michael Pearse, a 52-year-old Australian national, and Yongchao Liu, a 33-year-old Chinese national, have already been taken to the US and both appeared in Manhattan federal court over the allegations.
The defendants, along with up to six co-conspirators are accused of manufacturing an ‘auto-subscription’ service to dupe unsuspecting victims out of millions.
Random mobile phone users were allegedly charged monthly fees for unsolicited messages about celebrity gossip and horoscopes – even if they deleted the texts – from 2011 to 2013.
A third Australian resident, tech tycoon Eugeni ‘Zhenya’ Tsvetnenko, remains in a Perth prison and is facing extradition on fraud charges.
A third Australian resident, Eugeni ‘Zhenya’ Tsvetnenko, (pictured with his wife Lydia on a trip to Bali) remains in a Perth prison and is facing extradition on fraud charges
At the height of his wealth, Tsvetnenko (pictured, left) reportedly asked his wife (centre) to quit her job to travel the world with him, and she has since partied with the likes of Snoop Dogg (right) in the US
The Russian internet tycoon has appeared on the BRW Rich List with an estimated fortune in excess of $100million.
Tsvetnenko is accused of becoming involved in an alleged scheme in 2012.
Prosecutors claim he had already been involved in suspicious subscription practices, and had started auto-subscribing hundreds of thousands of American consumers by April 2012.
Court documents allege it was then that he began generating millions of dollars worth of revenue at a rapid pace.
Police allege ‘some of the proceeds were used to fund a lavish lifestyle of, among other things, multi-million dollar homes, expensive vacations and gambling’.
Michael Pearse from Sydney has already been extradited to the US to face charges that could land him in prison for 20 years
He reportedly arrived in Australia aged 12 with his parents, who are both biochemists, in 1992.
They came with just two suitcases and $6,000 in cash to start their new life.
Despite dropping out of university with just $200 to his name, he was hailed ‘Australia’s SMS king after starting his business.
At the height of his wealth, he owned seven homes in Perth and another interstate, as well as holiday villas and five luxury cards.
He even bought a record label, and spent $600,000 on his wedding to his wife Lydia – and hired Snoop Dogg to perform at his own 29th birthday party.
His wife is not accused of any wrongdoing.
Tsvetnenko is now fighting extradition from Australia. He denies the allegations against him.
Meanwhile Pearse is expected to plead not guilty and his lawyers are in the process of preparing a bail application.
Pearse and Liu were charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, and Pearse was also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Tsvetnenko (pictured in his youth) dropped out of his university degree before becoming a multi-millionaire
They face upwards of 20 years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors said Pearse was the chief executive and Liu was a Java development engineer for a company called Bullroarer.
According to court papers, Bullroarer was affiliated with Tatto Inc, a company that purchased large numbers of mobile phone numbers to target with messages.
Victims were charged $9.99 a month even if they ignored or deleted the messages, and were often unaware anything was amiss until unintelligible items such as ‘96633IQ16CALL8668611606’ began appearing on their phone bills, prosecutors said.
The matter will return to US court next month.
Tsvetnenko (pictured as a young boy) reportedly arrived in Australia aged 12 with his parents, who are both biochemists, in 1992