A Russian national who traveled to the US in order to recruit a Tesla employee for a scheme to plant malware on the carmaker’s network pleaded guilty today, abandoning a jury trial that was planned for July this year.
The suspect, named Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov, 26, stood accused of working with a Russian cybercrime gang, which tasked him with traveling to the US to recruit one of Tesla’s employees working at the company’s Reno, Nevada gigafactory.
According to a DOJ indictment, Kriuchkov offered the employee $1 million dollars to install malware on the Reno factory’s internal network.
The malware would have allowed hackers to connect to Tesla’s IT systems and steal files that they planned to use to extort the company for a multi-million dollar ransom demand.
The plan fell through when the employee informed the FBI about Kriuchkov’s proposition. Subsequent meetings between Kriuchkov and the employee were recorded while Kriuchkov detailed several aspects of the conspiracy and the plan to install the malware.
The same plan would have also paid Kriuchkov $250,000 for recruiting the employee, according to FBI recordings.
The Russian national was arrested on August 22 at the Los Angeles airport while trying to leave the country after being informed by an FBI agent by phone that he was under investigation a day earlier.
He was formally indicted on September 3 and pleaded not guilty a day later when arraigned in court, arguing that he would prove his innocence in court.
Kriuchkov now faces a lighter sentence
If a jury trial would have gone through and the suspect found guilty, Kriuchkov stood to face up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.
According to a copy of the plea agreement obtained by The Record, Kriuchkov could now face a much lighter prison sentence of between four and ten months, followed by up to three years of supervised release, no fine, and would be forced to pay Tesla $14,824.88 in restitution.
Kriuchkov’s sentencing hearing has been scheduled for May 10, 2021.
A legal representative from Kriuchkov’s team did not return a request for comment.