Perth millionaire arrested over US text message scam

Perth millionaire arrested over US text message scam

One of Australia’s wealthiest residents is facing up to 60 years in a US prison after being arrested for his alleged involvement in one of the country’s most infamous text messaging scams.

Zhenya Tsvetnenko has been accused of taking part in one of the biggest US telecommunications scams in history, which saw countless citizens tricked out of more than $196 million.

The Russian-born 39-year-old was once named the wealthiest person under 40 in Western Australia.

He was raised in Perth and made his millions by inventing the automatic SMS delivery service.

But Mr Tsvetnenko’s life of luxury and days of partying with Hollywood stars like Snoop Dogg may soon come to an abrupt end if he is found guilty of taking part in the US “auto-subscribing scheme” that ran from 2011 and 2013.

The scam automatically charged users $13 a month for text messages containing horoscopes, trivia and celebrity news, even if they never actually subscribed to the service.

The “auto subscribing scheme” signed random users up for these unwanted, regular messages without their knowledge and charged them a monthly fee.

The multi-millionaire was arrested by Australian Federal Police at his riverfront apartment in Applecross on December 20, 2018, according to The Sunday Times.

The AFP were acting on an extradition arrest warrant after Mr Tsvetnenko was charged in 2016 in Manhattan federal court with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The US Attorney’s Office said that cash was used to “fund a lavish lifestyle of expensive vacations and gambling” for Mr Tsvetnenko and the seven others allegedly involved in the scam.

But the 39-year-old father has strongly denied these allegations, with his media representative telling The Sunday Times he was “not guilty of the alleged offences”.

He has been held at Western Australia’s Hakea Prison for 40 days while he waits to hear whether he will be extradited to the US.

His current circumstances are a far cry from the indulgent life he lived with his wife Lydia, co-owner of Perth Fashion label Zhivago.

Mr Tsvetnenko went from college drop out to multi-millionaire in just three years after creating a computer program that sent SMS messages automatically.

In 2005, while living off his wife’s wage, he launched an SMS Gateway service out of his bedroom, making more than $4 million a month in under two years.

The two were well known on the Perth social scene, with their lifestyle earning them the nickname “Posh and Becks”.

They were known for dropping huge amounts of cash on luxury cars and private planes, with Mr Tsvetnenko’s 30th birthday party reportedly having huge ice sculptures of his Lamborghini and Ferrari.

Last week, Mr Tsvetnenko faced a bail application hearing at Perth Magistrates Court.

However, the decision was reserved until Tuesday when he will find out if he will be extradited to the US.

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