How celebrity gossip and horoscopes landed Australian ‘SMS genius’ millionaire in US prison

Victims did not sign up or consent to the fee and most disregarded the texts as spam, not realising they were being charged until they noticed it on their phone bill.

“Tsvetnenko and his co-defendants made a fortune by fraudulently charging their customers for text messages they didn’t need to approve, in a practice called ‘auto-subscribing’, then laundering the proceeds through shell companies,” Williams said.

“[He] is paying a steep price for his mobile scam, as he has already paid back over $15 million in forfeiture, and will now spend 98 months in federal prison.”

Perth based internet entrepreneur Zhenya Tsvetnenko.

Perth based internet entrepreneur Zhenya Tsvetnenko.Credit:Ross Swanborough

During his extradition fight, the father-of-two divorced his wife Lydia, who he met before becoming a millionaire.

Court documents revealed Lydia and his nine-year-old child, along with inmates at Hakea Prison, had provided references for the convicted fraudster in preparation for his sentencing.

In a letter to the court, Tsvetnenko also apologised for the scheme and promised to “not go wrong again”.

“I remember breaking down crying in front of Lydia, telling her that I had done something terrible and it had caught up with me. I had no one to blame but myself,” he said.

“I justified my actions at the time by thinking it wasn’t a lot of money and nobody was being hurt. I was fooling myself. I am deeply ashamed of what I did and the harm that my conduct caused.”

His co-conspirator, Darcy Wedd – originally from Western Australia – is already serving 10 years in a US prison over the scam.

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