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Massachusetts teen arrested for allegedly trying to raise money for ISIS with gift card scheme

<i>Steven Senne/AP</i><br/>Paul Ventura
Steven Senne/AP
Paul Ventura

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 terrorist group ISIS, federal authorities said.

Mateo Ventura, a resident of Wakefield, 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 US Attorney’s Office of Massachusetts announced in a news release.

Ventura was charged Thursday with 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 CNN affiliate WCVB.

CNN has reached out to Ventura’s attorney for comment.

In a criminal complaint filed by the FBI 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 to plan attacks.”

The online exchange began on August 3, 2021, when Ventura was a minor, the complaint says, when he expressed his 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 that contained a recording of his “pledge of allegiance” to ISIS’s leader, the complaint says.

A day later, Ventura shared a redemption code for a Google gift card worth $25 to “sell on the dark web” and send the profits to ISIS, the complaint says.

Ventura provided 26 gift cards while underage, for stores such as Amazon, Gamestop and Playstation Network between August 2021 and August 2022 that totaled $965 with the intent 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 intent to join ISIS and support the group financially “for war on 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 the online chat, along with a redemption code. He continued to provide 15 more gift cards until March, which totaled $705.

If found guilty, Ventura faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Ventura’s father, Paul Ventura, told CNN affiliate WCVB on Thursday outside the federal court that his son told him, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“But let me tell you something,” his father told WCVB. “They were after him.”

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Caroll Alvarado contributed to this report.

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