A Wakefield teenager was arrested Thursday on charges he allegedly ran a gift-card reselling scheme aimed at raising money for the foreign terrorist organization ISIS, federal prosecutors said.
Mateo Ventura, 18, was ordered held after he was arranged in federal court in Worcester on a charge of knowingly concealing the source of material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, according to the US Attorney’s Office of Massachusetts.
The venture provided multiple gift cards to an individual he believed was an ISIS supporter, with the intention that the gift cards be sold on the dark web for a little less than face value and the resulting profits be used to support ISIS, prosecutors accused of charging documents .
Ventura stated that he wanted the proceeds to go to ISIS “for war on kuffar,” (disbelievers).
Between January 2023 and May 2023, Ventura donated $705 in Google Play Store gift cards intended to support ISIS, according to prosecutors.
Ventura implicated himself in the scheme by conversing in lengthy conversations with an undercover FBI agent who was posing as a supporter of the terror group, documents indicate. He also expressed a desire to move abroad to join and fight with ISIS.
On Jan. 26, 2023, when asked about hijrah (traveling to join ISIS), Ventura stated, “I want to give my life for jihad fisabillah (for the sake of Allah) the intention is pure from the heart,” and also stated that he would “ make good fighter for dawla (ISIS).”
A chat log about the desired move was included in the documents. It reads as follows:
OCE: How long to take for passport?
VENTURE: a month of two
OCE: Able to pay for flights? Also need money to pay smugglers?
VENTURE: Yes have a stack of cash.
OCE: After getting the passport do you want to leave?
OCE: Have zawja [wife]? family?
OCE: Only u go.
VENTURE: Only me yes family stay
Investigators noted that Ventura didn’t turn 18 until December 2022. In August 2021, he first expressed interest in joining ISIS when he was still a minor, the documents showed.
Ventura’s father, Paul, said his son is a loyal American who may have a fascination with terrorist organizations, but has no desire for affiliation.
He partially blames the school system for his son’s predicament. “So he’s in his SPED (special education) class and the kids in the SPED class are looking at school shootings and terrorist attacks in school,” Ventura said. “That’s what he’s learning in his SPED class.”
Paul Ventura told reporters outside of court that his son suffered from learning and neurological deficits that had made his academic career “very difficult.” He also explained that his son was bullied to a point that forced him to leave Wakefield High School in 2022, a year before he was slated to graduate.
We wanted to know how Wakefield Public Schools handles bullying complaints. But our query went unanswered.
Paul Ventura said this is the second time Mateo has dealt with the FBI. About a year ago, he said, agents were unable to charge the high schooler and his son wound up setting up what was supposed to be a friendly meeting at their Wakefield home with FBI agents.
“He wanted to show them how people were getting on the computer and communicating without being detected,” he said.
But in court documents, the FBI said Mateo Ventura used encryption common to other ISIS supporters in his online conversations with the undercover agent.
Paul Ventura added that his son was “railroaded” and that the allegations against him were “unintentional.”
“It’s almost thought it’s like they put something in front of him and sucked him in,” he said. “If he did it, he did it unintentionally. I’m telling you right now. If he did it he did it unintentionally.”
The charge of knowingly concealing the source of material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization provides for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, up to a lifetime of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.
A federal judge ordered Mateo Ventura to be held until June 14, when a decision will be made on bail.
View the criminal complaint below:
This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.
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