It is a spectacular case in U.S. air cargo history, rich in criminal records. Six leading managers of freight carrier, Polar Air, and representatives of various companies that were part
of a criminal ring, were busted in late 2022, and charged for continuously defrauding the airline. Now, the first defendant, former Senior Director Customer Service & Capacity, Robert
Schirmer, has pleaded guilty, announced the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
At the same time, that court also found a quartet of two U.S. citizens and two Russians guilty of electronically manipulating the cab dispatch system at JFK Airport and funneling substantial sums into their own pockets.
But first, the case of Polar Air Cargo, a subsidiary of Atlas Air (51%) and DHL Express (49%): The court accuses the defendants of having received unlawful payments over many years and in excess of approximately US$23 million in kickback payments or disbursements, either directly or through various limited liability companies they controlled. U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Polar senior executive, Robert Schirmer, admitted his guilt in a scheme to defraud his employer that lasted more than a decade. His plea reflects our Office’s longstanding commitment to rooting out corporate fraud.”
And this is what the responsible prosecution office accuses the defendants of:
From 2009 through to July 2021, Robert Schirmer, together with nine other defendants, participated in a massive scheme to defraud Polar. At all relevant times, Schirmer and three codefendants were senior executives of Polar (the ‘Executive Defendants’), and six codefendants (the ‘Vendor Defendants’) owned and operated various Polar vendors and customers. The Executive Defendants agreed to accept millions of dollars in kickbacks from the Vendor Defendants, and reaped substantial financial benefits as a result of their secret ownership interests in certain Polar vendors, in exchange for ensuring that those vendors received favorable business arrangements with Polar, such as capacity access and rate advantages.
The fraud they perpetrated — which involved a substantial portion of Polar’s senior management and at least 10 customers and vendors of Polar — led to the pervasive corruption of Polar’s business, touching nearly every aspect of the company’s operations for over a decade, the court holds.
Robert Schirmer (58) is the first of the defendants to plead guilty to the criminal activity that harmed Polar Air. He confirmed to the courts that he was involved in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. He also agreed to pay forfeiture to the sum of US$983,759.32 and to make compensation payments to Polar totaling US$9.34 million
Schirmer is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Jesse M. Furman on 13FEB24. Further court proceedings will follow.
Criminals hack JFK taxi dispatch system
Over at Kennedy Airport, a criminal gang managed to manipulate the cab dispatch scheme in operation there. Taxi drivers are required to wait in a holding lot before they get green light to pick up a fare. A computer system ensures that cabs are dispatched in the order in which they arrived. This scheme was hacked by two Russian nationals, Aleksandr Derebenetc and Kirill Shipulin, in conspiracy with U.S. citizens, Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman. The gang was thus able to move certain taxis to the front of the line in exchange for payment.
Between SEP19 and SEP21, the four defendants explored and attempted various mechanisms to access JFK’s dispatch system, including bribing individuals to insert a flash drive containing malware into computers connected to the scheme. Through these activities and by stealing computer tablets, they obtained unauthorized access to the dispatch system via Wi-Fi. The members of the hacking scheme also sent messages to each other, in which they explicitly discussed their intended hacking attack. For example, on or about 10NOV19, Abayev messaged the following to Derebenetc in Russian: “I know that the Pentagon is being hacked[.]. So, can’t we hack the taxi industry[?]”
US$10 x 1000
By manipulating the system, they used their unauthorized access to alter the order of cabs and move specific taxis to the front of the line, thus skipping other taxis until their turn came. Based on their “preferential services” (sic!), Abayev and Leyman charged cab drivers involved in their scheme US$10 each time they were advanced, and transferred part of their profits to their Russian accomplices. This amounted to over 1000 violations of the dispatch system on average – per day.
On 30OCT23, Abayev (47) and Leyman (49), both of New York, pled guilty of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Derebenetc of Nizhniy Novgorod and Shipulin of Moscow (both 30) were also charged for conspiracy and for having committed similar crimes. Living in Russia, they remain at large.
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