The 13 Most Notorious Alleged Criminals In Tech History
While the tech industry has a reputation for attracting shy but well-meaning nerds, the vast amounts of money involved mean that it also brings in people with shadier intentions.
There are the hackers, who break into networks and systems for fun or profit.
There are the leakers, who use their access to the knowledge and information at their finger tips to start public discussions about things that were previously corporate or government secrets.
And then there are the frauds, the people who are selling something that doesn’t exist.
13. Aaron Swartz, who helped create RSS and Reddit
While the “crime” Aaron Swartz was charged with was obscure — he mass-downloaded academic files that he was entitled to as a Harvard researcher — the charges brought against him by the federal government were anything but trivial. If convicted, Swartz faced up to 35 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, restitution, forfeiture and a fine of over to $1 million.
Aaron Swartz committed suicide in January. The Department of Justice faced major criticisms for its aggressive prosecution of Swartz and was accused of trying to “make an example” of him.
12. Jeffrey Scott Hawn, who killed 32 bison who strayed onto his property
San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department
Jeffrey Scott Hawn, CEO of Texas’ Attachmate Group, pled guilty to one count of criminal mischief and one count of cruelty to animals in 2008 after he hired men to assist him in killing bison which had wandered onto his land and belonged to his neighbors.
While Hawn’s felony punishment was deferred, Jean Torkelson at Rocky Mountain News reported that he judge in the case sentenced him to serve ten days in prison for the cruelty charge and nearly $160,000 in fees to the family, Colorado animal protection groups, and the local government.
11. Raymond Bitar, who ran an illegal online poker company
Raymond Bitar was CEO of Full Tilt Poker, an online poker company that was able to process its illegal revenue by funneling it through shell companies that appeared legitimate.
In 2011, he was charged with illegal online gambling and faced up to 35 years in prison. As Bernard Vaughan at Reuters reported earlier this year, Bitar was able to receive no jail time after pleading guilty due to a severe heart condition (which requires him to wear a defibrillator under his clothes), but was ordered to forfeit $40 million.
10. David Smith, who wrote the Melissa email virus
David Smith was the guy who wrote the notorious Melissa worm, the first self-replicating email-aware virus. It shut down computers around the world and launched a whole new kind of malware.
That malware exploited a hole in Microsoft Outlook. Once it got onto a computer, it would fire up Outlook and send itself to other recipients. He pleaded guilty and admitted to causing $80 million in damage. Smith was convicted and served 20 months in jail.
9. John McAfee, suspected of killing his neighbor
The founder of the McAfee antivirus company had an interesting year in 2012. In April, his home in Belize was raided and he was arrested by the Belizean Police Department on suspicion of illegal drug manufacturing and possession of an illegal firearm, though the government never officially charged him.
In November of the same year, the Belizean police force labeled him a “person of interest” in connection to the murder of his neighbor, Gregory Viant Faull. Claiming that he was afraid of being killed by the Belizean police force, he fled the country.
The next month he was arrested in Guatemala for illegally entering the country. After several days in a Guatemalan detention center, he was deported to the United States. He remains a “person of interest” in Belize but is not the subject of extradition proceedings.
8. Hector Xavier Monsegur, founder of LulzSec
Hector Xavier Monsegur is said to be one of the founders of the hacktivism group LulzSec, short for Lulz Security. He went by the hacker name of Sabu.
LulzSec claimed responsibility for a bunch of big attacks, including stealing user accounts from Sony Pictures in 2011 and taking down the CIA’s website. It also released passwords from other sites it compromised.
Monsegur was arrested in March 2012 and then became an informant for the FBI, helping the FBI arrest people associated with other hacktivist groups, including Anonymous, Lulzsec and Antisec.
He pleaded guilty to 12 criminal charges and could face up to 124 years in prison.
7. Marc Collins-Rector, founder of DEN
Marc Collins-Rector was the founder of Digital Entertainment Networks, one of the web’s first video entertainment sites. Carrie Fisher was once one of its stars. DEN was notorious for its founders’ wild parties.
Collins-Rector pleaded guilty in 2004 to charges of transporting underage boys across state lines in order to commit illegal sexual acts.
According to Joseph Menn at the LA Times, Collins-Rector paid the five boys money and expensive gifts and pressured them to take trips and attend parties with himself and other DEN executives. The prosecutor in the case pursued a maximum of 33 months served in prison. He spent two years in a Spanish prison fighting extradition.
6. Albert Gonzalez, history’s biggest credit card fraudster
Albert Gonzalez was a hacker involved with stealing and selling more than 170 million credit cards and ATM numbers between 2005 and 2007, the biggest hacker credit-card fraud in history, reports Computerworld.
In 2010 he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
He was also accused, but never indicted, of leading another group of hackers that stole and sold 1.5 million credit and ATM card numbers and racked up $4.3 million. The group also sold stolen email accounts. Authorities charged him and he reportedly helped them indict other members of the hacker group.
Even while helping authorities, he was also said to be the mastermind behind a scheme to steal credit cards from TJX stores and other retailers, reports Wired. The investigation of this crime contributed to the suicide death of another famous hacker, Jonathan James.
5. Samuel “Mouli” Cohen, who created the Ecast Ponzi scheme
Samuel Cohen defrauded millions of dollars from investors with a Ponzi Scheme centered around a non-existent company called Ecast.
As CBS News reported last April, Cohen told investors that his company made jukeboxes for bars and that it was in the middle of being purchased by Microsoft. He used the money from these investors to buy a mansion in the Bay Area and lived a lavish lifestyle in order to convince new investors to give him even more money.
After taking over $30 million this way, Cohen was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
4. Edward Snowden, PRISM leaker
There’s no question that the information leaked by Edward Snowden in June of this year started a public discussion regarding Internet privacy and the extent of government surveillance. With that said, he broke the law and fled the country to avoid prosecution rather than publicly face the charges against him.
Snowden currently resides in Moscow. It is not clear whether he will ever return to the United States to face the federal government’s charges of espionage and theft of government property.
3. Paul Devine, an Apple employee who took kickbacks from parts suppliers
Paul Devine was a global supply chain manager at Apple until 2010, when an internal investigation at the company revealed that he had been passing on company secrets to Asian suppliers in exchange for money.
The U.S. government then filed 23 charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy against Devine. Dan Levine at Reuters reported that Devine pled guilty to the charges and agreed to forfeit over $2 million.
2. Shawn Hogan, who took eBay for $28 million
Hogan created a “cookie-stuffing” scam in which eBay paid him for up to $28 million in bogus commissions on affiliate referral fees he had nothing to do with.
The scam made it look as if people had made purchases on eBay after clicking on his referral ads, when in fact users had never seen an ad for eBay and had no idea their browsers had been seeded with an eBay tracking cookie.
He faces 20 years in prison.
1. Marcus Tillman, a convicted child molester, worked as a contractor at Yammer under a false name
Marcus Tillman, a suspect in a child molestation case, escaped police surveillance in George four years ago by cutting of an ankle bracelet before his trial could begin. He was convicted of two counts of child molestation in-absentia, during which time he fled to California.
Some time later he began work as a contractor at Yammer, an enterprise-focused social networking service now owned by Microsoft. He did so under the false alias “Stephen Warner.” He was caught earlier this year by federal investigators who were tipped by Georgia authorities.
He wasn’t caught earlier because Yammer doesn’t perform its normal background checks on contractors. This let him stay under the radar despite the fact that he hadn’t supplied a Social Security number was common knowledge at the company.
He now faces 40 years in prison in Georgia.