By Emma Tucker, CNN
(CNN) An 18-year-old Massachusetts man was arrested Thursday for orchestrating an alleged gift card scheme to raise money for the ISIS terror group, federal authorities said.
Mateo Ventura, a Wakefield resident, knowingly provided gift cards to a man he believed to be an ISIS supporter so they could be sold on the dark web for “a little less than face value” to raise money for ISIS, the Office of the Massachusetts US Attorney announced in a press release.
Ventura was indicted Thursday on one count of knowingly concealing the source of material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization. Ventura appeared in federal court in Worcester on Thursday afternoon. He is being held without bail pending his detention hearing next week, according to WCVB, CNN affiliate.
CNN has reached out to Ventura’s attorney for comment.
In a criminal complaint filed by the FBI on Wednesday, a special agent with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force said Ventura exchanged messages with an undercover FBI employee on an encrypted messaging app used by ISIS supporters “to communicate their support for ISIS and plan attacks. ”
The online exchange began on August 3, 2021, when Ventura was a minor, the complaint says, when he expressed a desire to travel abroad to fight with ISIS. On August 4 of that year, Ventura said he wanted to provide monetary support to ISIS and sent the undercover agent, who he believed to be an ISIS supporter, an audio file containing a recording of his “loyalty oath” to the leader of ISIS. ISIS, the complaint says.
A day later, Ventura shared a redemption code for a $25 Google gift card to “sell on the dark web” and send the proceeds to ISIS, the complaint says.
Ventura gave away 26 gift cards as a minor to stores including Amazon, Gamestop and Playstation Network between August 2021 and August 2022 for a total of $965 with the intention that the money from the resale or redemption would be used to support ISIS, the complaint says.
On January 25, Ventura sent new messages to the undercover FBI employee, repeating his intention to join ISIS and financially support the group “for the war against the kuffar,” Ventura wrote, which means disbelievers in Arabic, according to the complaint.
That same day, according to the complaint, Ventura shared a screenshot of a $25 Google Play rewards card in online chat, along with a redemption code. He went on to give out 15 more gift cards through March, totaling $705.
If convicted, Ventura faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Ventura’s father, Paul Ventura, said WCVB, CNN affiliate Thursday in front of federal court that his son told him: “I did nothing wrong.”
“But let me tell you something,” her father told WCVB. “They were after him.”
The CNN Wire
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CNN’s Caroll Alvarado contributed to this report.