Bahamian accused of hacking celebrities’ emails pleads guilty in U.S.
By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A Bahamian man accused of hacking into celebrities’ email accounts to steal unreleased movies and television scripts, personal information and sexually explicit videos that he then tried to sell pleaded guilty on Monday.
Alonzo Knowles, who was arrested in December after allegedly trying to sell an undercover agent 15 scripts for $80,000, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to charges of criminal copyright infringement and identity theft.
“I am sorry for my actions,” Knowles said in court.
Under a plea deal, Knowles, 24, agreed to forfeit $1,900 along with 25 unpublished movie and TV scripts and copies of unpublished music found on a DropBox account belonging to him.
He also agreed to waive his right to appeal any sentence below 2-3/4 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 25.
According to authorities, Knowles maintained a list of at least 130 celebrities’ emails and phone numbers. His victims included movie and TV actors, a casting director, a popular singer-songwriter and a hip-hop artist, authorities say.
Prosecutors have not identified by name the celebrities or the titles of the scripts at issue.
But one script he offered to sell to the undercover agent was for “All Eyez On Me,” the upcoming biopic of Tupac Shakur, who died in a 1996 shooting, the film’s production company has said.
The probe began in December, after a person described as a “popular radio host” received an offer from someone for scripts of a TV drama’s upcoming season, authorities said.
The radio host contacted the show’s executive producer, leading to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, authorities said.
The investigation led to Knowles, who in video conference calls told the undercover agent that he had “exclusive content” that was “really profitable” and worth “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” prosecutors said.
Knowles later traveled to New York, where he met the agent and provided the 15 scripts along with social security numbers for three professional athletes and an actress, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Knowles told the agent he accessed the celebrities’ email accounts by sending a virus to their computers or by emailing a fake notification that their account had been hacked and asking for their passcodes.
Following the meeting, Knowles was arrested.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry)