Computer Hacker Agrees to Plea Deal


Miami—According to court documents filed earlier this week, a computer hacker who perpetrated one of the largest cases of identity theft in United States history will plead guilty and serve time for his crimes.
Facing charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, in New York and Boston federal courts, is Albert Gonzalez, 28. He agreed to plead guilty to 19 counts, in a deal which would combine the two cases in Massachussetts, and will serve 15 to 25 years in a federal prison.

Authorities say that Gonzalez was the mastermind behind a crime ring that eventually netted more than 170 million credit and debit card numbers. The group infiltrated the computer systems of such giant retailers as T.J. Maxx, Barnes and Noble, OfficeMax and Sports Authority.

Indictments claimed that Gonzalez, in addition to two co-defendants, used a hacking method known as “wardriving,” or cruising around with a laptop and trying to access retailers’ wireless Internet signals. Upon locating a network, the hackers used special programs called “sniffer programs” to capture the data as it moved through the retailer’s processors.

While Gonzalez was negotiating a plea agreement, the United States Attorney’s office in New Jersey slapped him with additional charges, including targeting customers of 7-Eleven and Hannaford Brothers, as well as Heartland Payment Systems, a New Jersey-based card payment processor. These charges are not included in the plea deal.

Gonzalez was a self-taught computer whiz who had been previously arrested for hacking, but not charged, because he agreed to cooperate with the Secret Service and help investigators identify other hackers. At the same time he helped the government as an informant, however, he was hacking into Fortune 500 companies. Court documents also said that Gonzalez had hacked into the computer systems of the national restaurant chain called Dave & Buster’s.

The hacker lived a lavish lifestyle. He threw himself a birthday party costing $75,000, bought a condo in Miami and a BMW, and gave expensive gifts to his friends, girlfriend and family. When he was arrested in May 2008, at Miami Beach’s swanky National Hotel, agents seized $22,000 in cash, computer equipment and a 9mm Glock handgun.

As part of the deal, Gonzalez must forfeit his computers, condo and car, as well as the $1.1 million found buried in his parents’ backyard. His girlfriend must return a Tiffany ring she was given as a present, and Gonzalez’s father and family friends must give back Rolex watches he gave them.


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