Canadian Police Seize $28M in Bitcoin, Extradite Alleged Affiliate of Ransomware Gang

Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins is accused of carrying out dozens of ransomware attacks in 2020 – many of which were specifically targeted at the health care sector during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AccessTimeIconMar 10, 2022 at 6:11 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 5:12 p.m. UTC

A Canadian man accused of carrying out dozens of ransomware attacks in 2020 has been extradited to the United States, and more than $28 million in bitcoin (BTC) was seized at his home in connection with the case.

Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins, 34, was indicted in a federal court in Florida on charges of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and wire fraud, intentional damage to a protected computer, and extortion. A protected computer is a computer used exclusively by either the U.S. government or a financial institution.

Vachon-Desjardins – a former IT professional for the Canadian government – was arrested in Quebec in January. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) seized 719 bitcoins (worth over $28 million at current prices) and $790,000 in Canadian currency from his home. Canadian media report, however, that Vachon-Desjardins told the court he’d actually stolen over 2,000 bitcoins over his ransomware career.

The arrest comes amid an international crackdown on ransomware. In November U.S. President Joe Biden promised to bring “the full strength of the federal government to disrupt malicious cyber activity” and, since then, several large-scale operations have brought down ransomware groups including Russia-based REvil.

Vachon-Desjardins allegedly operated as an “affiliate” of the NetWalker ransomware gang, which sells “Ransomware-as-a-Service” (RaaS) to affiliates like Vachon-Desjardins, who carry out the attack themselves, sharing a percentage of the booty with the developers.

The Toronto Sun reported that Vachon-Desjardins was also hired to teach other would-be cybercriminals how to carry out attacks effectively.

NetWalker-made ransomware was often used against hospitals, emergency services and other companies in the healthcare sector during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vachon-Desjardins faces more than 11 years in prison if found guilty of all charges against him.


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Cheyenne Ligon

Cheyenne Ligon is a CoinDesk news reporter with a focus on crypto regulation and policy. She has no significant crypto holdings.