Russians Hacked JFK Taxi Dispatch In A Line-cutting Scheme: Feds

Two Queens men conspired with Russian computer experts to hack the taxi dispatch system at JFK airport so drivers could jump to the front of the pickup line, federal prosecutors charged Tuesday.

Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman, both 48, first successfully hacked the mailing system in 2019 with the help of other unnamed employees, some of whom were Russian nationals, according to an indictment filed in the Southern District of New York.

“I know the Pentagon is being hacked… So can’t we hack the taxi industry?” Abayev reportedly wrote to one of the Russians in November 2019.

After the first successful intrusion, Abayev, Leyman and other members of the scam sporadically gained control of the taxi-dispatch system over the next year, according to the FBI.

On days they checked the system, they charged drivers waiting to be called from an airport parking lot to a terminal $10 to skip the line — which the prosecution says often would have meant hours of waiting .

Hacks at JFK
The two suspects allegedly failed to raise cash for the line-cutting program at JFK Airport.
Bridget Stelzer

The cab drivers pouring out the batter gave the schemers their medallion number while they waited in a central car park — and then, according to the indictment, were instructed which terminal to go to to skip the line.

Word of the plan spread among airport hacks — and people working with Abayev and Leyman used rambling group chats to let drivers know which days they could pay the fee to jump to the front of the line .

“Load open,” a member of the scheme wrote to the group chats when they were in control of the system for the day.

“Shop closed,” they would write if they didn’t, the indictment says.

Taxis at JFK
Members of the hacking scheme set up expansive group chats among drivers to let them know when they could cut the line.
Robert Mecea

Abayev, Leyman and their co-conspirators registered as many as 1,000 illegally expedited trips on any given day, according to the FBI.

It’s unclear exactly how much they made from the scheme – but they reportedly gave the Russian hackers more than $100,000 of the ill-gotten gains.

Abayev and Leyman were each hit on two counts of conspiracy to commit a computer burglary and faced up to 10 years in prison.

Both were released on $100,000 bail at their presentation in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday. They will have their journey monitored and will not be allowed to use any internet-enabled devices unless monitored by pre-trial services.

It was unclear Tuesday if the two were taxi drivers themselves, but Abayev’s name matched one in the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission database.

“As alleged in the indictment, these two defendants — with the help of Russian hackers — ripped off the Port Authority,” US Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.

“For years, the hacking of the defendants prevented honest taxi drivers from picking up tickets at JFK in the order of arrival,” he added.

Port Authority Inspector General John Gay added: “The Port Authority has zero tolerance for bad actors breaking the law at our facilities.”

A lawyer for Leyman did not immediately respond. Attorney information for Abayev was not immediately available.

Additional reporting by David Meyer Russians Hacked JFK Taxi Dispatch In A Line-cutting Scheme: Feds


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