Somerset man jailed for stealing £5.7m in cryptocurrency scam

Two men who stole more than £5.7 million in cryptocurrency from victims worldwide have been jailed. Jake Lee, 38, from Charlcombe in Bath and James Heppel, 42, from Staverton in Wiltshire, spoofed the domain of online cryptocurrency exchange to access victims' Bitcoin login details and wallets.

After a long investigation by the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SWROCU), it was discovered that the duo scammed 55 victims in 26 different countries.

Cash totalled £835,000, which includes a suitcase containing £551,000 cash voluntarily handed over by Lee in January, as well as £64,000 worth of cryptocurrency, a Banksy print valued at £60,000 and three vehicles, have all been restrained.

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The pair have been jailed after admitting to three counts of conspiracy to commit fraud. Lee was handed a four-year sentence and Heppel got 15 months at Bristol Crown Court on Friday 3 May. A confiscation order for nearly £1million was made against Lee, which will be used to compensate the victims.

DS Matt Brain from SWROCU’s Regional Cyber Crime Unit said: “Our investigation started back in 2018 after colleagues at Avon and Somerset Police arrested Lee on suspicion of money laundering. As well as £24k cash, officers from the force seized digital devices and three laminated Bitcoin wallet recovery seeds. At the same time, our unit had started an investigation into a cryptocurrency scam reported by a Wiltshire victim who had £11k worth of Bitcoin from his Blockchain wallet.

“We took on the investigation into Lee and when we analysed his devices, we established he was a central figure involved in a sophisticated domain spoofing fraud and worked to identify numerous victims.

“Mapping out Lee and Heppel’s offending and links to other suspects and cryptocurrency exchanges all over the world was complex work, but the fact they both pleaded guilty to all counts, negating the need for a six-week trial, shows the strength of evidence we secured against them.”

Pamela Jain, a specialist prosecutor with the Serious Economic Organised Crime International Directorate of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Jake Lee and James Heppel defrauded people in 26 countries, including 11 victims in the UK, by diverting Bitcoin into wallets over which they had control.

“This was a complex and time-consuming prosecution which involved enquiries with numerous victims and prosecuting authorities all over the world.

“A substantial sum of money and assets have been seized. In addition to his prison sentence, the court also ordered Jake Lee to pay almost £1 million by way of a confiscation order which will enable the victims to be compensated. Confiscation proceedings against James Heppel are ongoing.

“Compensation orders force criminals to hand over available money and assets or face having time added onto their prison sentence.”