By Manuel Jimenez
SANTO DOMINGO (Reuters) - An alleged leader of the New York arm of a global cyber crime ring, which stole $45 million from two Middle Eastern banks, was shot dead during an attempted robbery in the Dominican Republic last month, Dominican police said on Friday.
Alberto Lajud-Pena, 23, was killed on April 27 in a house in the city of San Francisco de Macoris about 100 miles northeast of the capital, Santo Domingo, according to police.
Investigators found $100,000 in cash in the house, as well as an M-16 assault rifle, two 9 mm pistols, a revolver, ammunition clips and a telescopic sight. The money and weapons belonged to Lajud-Pena, police said.
Lajud-Pena was one of eight men that U.S. prosecutors said on Thursday were part of the New York cell of an international criminal syndicate that perpetrated one of the biggest bank heists in the world.
The crime ring hacked into the networks of two credit card processing companies in December 2012 and February 2013, respectively, to steal prepaid debit card data which they used to fraudulently withdraw money from cash machines in 27 countries over a matter of hours.
The U.S. Justice Department said the New York group was led by Lajud-Pena and pulled $2.4 million from almost 3,000 ATMs in the city during the space of 10 hours in February. Lajud-Pena's alleged co-defendants are all Hispanic men who were arrested in Yonkers, a New York City suburb that is home to a large Dominican population, U.S. prosecutors said on Thursday.
Lajud-Pena was shot and killed by a gang of three men, of whom the leader was Carlos Manuel Jiménez, alias "La Vaca Loca" (Mad Cow), according to police in the Dominican Republic. Jiménez and the two men were in custody, police said.
It was not immediately clear if the gang or the $100,000 found at the house were linked to the cyber theft. U.S. prosecutors have said that $2 million in cash is still missing from the heists.
The global ringleaders of the cyber theft are believed to be outside the United States though prosecutors declined to give details, citing the continuing investigation. Arrests in the case have also been made in Germany, according to the Düsseldorf prosecutor's office.
The hackers are alleged to have increased the available balance and withdrawal limits on prepaid MasterCard debit cards issued by Bank of Muscat of Oman, and National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah PSC (RAKBANK) of the United Arab Emirates.
They then distributed counterfeit debit cards to "cashers" around the world, enabling them to siphon millions of dollars from cash machines in a matter of hours, the prosecutors said.
(This story is corrected with a word in paragraph 4, "perpetrated")
(Writing by David Adams; Editing by Tom Brown, Tiffany Wu and Leslie Gevirtz)