WORCESTER - An 18-year-old from Wakefield is being held without bail after he was accused of trying to raise money to support ISIS terrorists through a gift card scheme. The FBI arrested Mateo Ventura without incident on Thursday and he was charged with "knowingly concealing the source of material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization."
The FBI alleges in court documents that Ventura was communicating with an undercover agent who he believed to be an ISIS supporter. Ventura, who lives at home with his father, talked about "providing support to ISIS in the form of a monetary instrument, and his desire to travel abroad to join and fight with ISIS," the criminal complaint says.
Ventura was 16 when he started talking with the agent about his goal to join ISIS in August of 2021, the FBI said. The agent asked if Ventura would be willing to provide donations to ISIS, and Ventura replied "oh yeah sure," according to documents.
The plan was to sell gift cards on the dark web for slightly less than face value and use the proceeds to support a "war on kuffar"," or disbelievers, according to the FBI. After he turned 18, Ventura donated a total of $705 in his attempt to support ISIS, the FBI said. The gift cards were for the Google Play Store, Gamestop, Dick's Sporting Goods, Playstation Network, Amazon and Steam.
Ventura appeared in a federal courtroom in Worcester Thursday afternoon. A detention hearing is set for Wednesday.
His father Paul Ventura told reporters outside court that his son is being "railroaded" and has developmental issues that were never properly addressed.
"I don't think he's, as a matter of fact, I know, my son is not a terrorist," Paul Ventura said.
The FBI said Mateo bought plane tickets to Cairo, but never actually traveled.
"One hundred percent a loyal American. One hundred percent. He don't like terrorism. He don't like it. He likes to learn about it," Paul Ventura said.
Mateo's father says this is a big misunderstanding, that his son was trying to help the FBI, to show them how easily Americans can connect with terrorists on the dark web.
"My son, called the FBI back and sat there and we had a meeting in my living room, and he wanted to show them how they could learn how people are doing this," Paul Ventura said. "He wanted to work with them."
Investigators tell a different story, saying Mateo Ventura asked them for $10 million and immunity in exchange for information, a deal they turned down before later swooping in on the Ventura home in Wakefield and arresting him.
The charge against Ventura could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a $250,000 fine.
for more features.