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Massachusetts teen accused of selling gift cards on dark web to fund ISIS

An 18-year-old boy from Massachusetts is accused of trying to raise more than $1,600 for ISIS by selling gift cards, including Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods gift cards, on the dark web — but the teen’s father claimed that his son has been “railroaded.”

Mateo Ventura, from Wakefield, made his initial appearance Thursday in US District Court in Worcester to face a charge of knowingly concealing the source of material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

The teen, who is a student at Wakefield Memorial High School, was ordered held in jail pending a bail hearing next Wednesday.

Ventura’s father, Paul, told reporters outside the courthouse that his son has developmental and learning issues from being born prematurely, adding that he has been tormented by bullies at school.

He strongly denied that the teen supported the extremist Islamic organization.

“My son said, ‘Dad, I don’t understand, I didn’t do anything wrong,’” Paul Ventura said, describing the moment the FBI came to arrest Mateo Thursday morning.

“My son is not a terrorist,” he added.

Mateo Ventura, 18
Mateo Ventura, 18, was arrested Thursday on a charge of knowingly concealing the source of material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization in an ISIS-funding scheme.

Prosecutors said that Ventura was being charged in a scheme to have gift cards sold on the dark web for less than face value, with the proceeds going to ISIS.

Between August 2020 and August 2021, Ventura sent about 25 gift cards worth $965 to someone he thought was an ISIS supporter, but was actually an undercover FBI agent, according to an affidavit. He was a juvenile during that time.

Between January and May after turning 18, Ventura provided another $705 in gift cards to the bogus ISIS sympathizer, prosecutors said.

Paul Ventura, left, father of 18-year-old Mateo Ventura, both of Wakefield, Mass., displays a photograph on his cell phone that shows what he describes as a photo of himself, center left, and his son Mateo, right, while speaking with reporters outside federal court, Thursday, June 8, 2023, in Worcester, Mass.
Paul Ventura speaking to reporters

Most of the cards, ranging in value from $10 to $100 each, were from Google Play Store. Others were from GameStop, Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Courts documents suggested that the Massachusetts teen also talked on an encrypted messaging app about wanting to travel overseas and fight with ISIS.

In one instance, the 18-year-old sent an audio recording to the undercover agent pledging his allegiance to then-ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurash, according to the court files.

Ventura allegedly even went so far as to buy a plane ticket to travel to Cairo in April, but he never made it onto the flight.

A man raises a rifle as others wave the flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan during a celebration of the first anniversary of the Taliban's return to power on August 15, 2022 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Getty Images

Prosecutors said that in April of this year, Ventura contacted the FBI and offered to tell the agency about future terrorist attacks in Egypt in exchange for $10 million and immunity, but the feds rejected his offer.

Paul Ventura, Mateo’s dad, argued that his son, who he said is good with computers, was trying to help the FBI “and work with them” by showing them how easily Americans can connect with terrorists online.

“[He is] one hundred percent a loyal American. One hundred percent,” the single dad said. “He don’t like terrorism. He don’t like it. He likes to learn about it.”

Mateo Ventura faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

With Post wires