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Pair jailed for £5.7m cryptocurrency scam


Two men who stole more than £5.7m worth of cryptocurrency from victims all over the world have been jailed. Jake Lee, 38, from Charlcombe in Bath and James Heppel, 42, from Staverton in Wiltshire, both pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit fraud. 

The South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SWROCU) identified 55 victims in 26 countries, including 11 from the UK, who had been targeted by the pair. 

Lee was handed four years' imprisonment and Heppel was sentenced to 15 months at Bristol Crown Court on 3 May. 

The cash included £551,000 in a suitcase, which was voluntarily handed over by Lee in January. 

The pair carried out the fraud by replicating the website of cryptocurrency exchange to access victims’ Bitcoin wallets, allowing them to steal their funds and login details. 

A print of the 2003 Banksy work Bomb Love worth £60,000, alongside cash totalling £835,000, £64,000 worth of cryptocurrency and three cars were all confiscated by police. 

A confiscation order for nearly £1million was made against Lee, which will be used to compensate the victims. 

Proceedings related to a similar order - which force criminals to hand over available money and assets, or have time added to their prison sentence - for Heppel are underway. 

Det Supt Matt Brain from SWROCU’s Regional Cyber Crime Unit said the investigation into the pair began when Avon and Somerset Police arrested Lee on suspicion of money laundering. Officers recovered £24,000 in cash and three digital devices, including three laminated Bitcoin wallet recovery seeds - a collection of words that helps the owner restore a Bitcoin wallet that has been lost. 

At the same time as the investigation into Lee, SWROCU had also started a probe into a cryptocurrency scam reported by a Wiltshire victim who had £11,000 worth of Bitcoin taken from his Blockchain wallet. 

Cash was recovered by police as part of the investigation 

Pamela Jain, a specialist prosecutor with the Serious Economic Organised Crime International Directorate of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This was a complex and time-consuming prosecution which involved enquiries with numerous victims and prosecuting authorities all over the world."