Renukanth Subramaniam, who admitted to being part of online fraud forum DarkMarket, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud at Blackfriars Crown Court on Thursday, and was remanded in custody for sentencing.
The British citizen, who used the online nickname 'JiLsi', was arrested after an FBI-led sting operation conducted with the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca). He is believed by Soca to be the founder of the site, as well as one of its administrators and, later, one of its 'reviewers' — people who vetted new members.
Doncaster resident John McHugh, who operated as a reviewer on the forum, also faced charges of conspiracy to defraud at Blackfriars and pleaded guilty. McHugh operated under the pseudonym 'Devilman'.
The DarkMarket forum allowed users to buy and sell stolen financial information including credit-card data, login credentials and carding equipment. It was described by the FBI in October 2008 as a "vast criminal network" with thousands of registered members.
The FBI, Soca and the US Secret Service mounted a sting operation in 2006. FBI special agent Keith Mularski infiltrated the organisation under the guise of a hacker known as 'MastrSplyntr'. Working with a US Secret Service operative known on the forum as 'sockaddr', Mularski gained trust within the crime ring, and became an administrator on DarkMarket. Sockaddr also gained trust, becoming a reviewer on the forum.
Subramaniam operated out of an internet café in Wembley, where he would regularly spend hours, Soca surveillance found.
Soca believes the crime ring was responsible for tens of millions of pounds worth of fraud. Although he had mortgages on three houses, Subramaniam was "largely itinerant", said a Soca statement on Thursday.
"Subramaniam was a loner with a modest lifestyle," said Soca deputy director Sharon Lemon in the statement. "He owned three houses but was largely itinerant, moving around between the homes of friends and family members and never staying in one place for long." Subramaniam's employment history included working for Pizza Hut and as a dispatch rider, said Soca.