United States Attorney Kevin J. O’Connor and Special-Agent-in-Charge Robin Avers of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced today that TRAVIS MYERS, age 29, of Yakima, Washington; TERRY KATZ, age 26, of Yorktown Heights, New York; WALTER KAPECHUK, age 55, of Schenectady, New York; and WARREN WILLSEY, age 53, of East Berne, New York, all waived indictment and pleaded guilty to charges of Conspiracy to Commit Criminal Copyright Infringement. These criminal prosecutions are the first cases to be brought as a result of the fifteen-month, software piracy investigation known as Operation Safehaven.
According to documents filed in federal court, MYERS, KATZ, and KAPECHUK were all participants in the “warez scene” -- an underground online community that consists of individuals and organized groups who use the Internet to engage in the large-scale, illegal distribution of copyrighted software. In the warez scene, certain participants (known as “suppliers”) are able to obtain access to copyrighted software, video games, DVD movies, and MP3 music files, often before those titles are even available to the general public. Other participants (known as “crackers”) then use their technical skills to circumvent or “crack” the digital copyright protections; and yet others (known as “couriers”) distribute the pirated software to various file servers on the Internet for others to access, reproduce, and further distribute. “Stealing the intellectual property of others is no different from any other form of thievery,” said U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O’Connor. “It is a priority of this Office and the Department of Justice to protect the intellectual property rights of our nation’s inventors and creators.” John Malcolm, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, added that “over the past two years, the Department of Justice has conducted the most aggressive and successful prosecutions of online piracy to date. Operation Safehaven is just another step in our continuing effort to target organized online piracy at all levels.”
In pleading guilty, MYERS admitted that he was a member of several leading warez groups, including “DrinkOrDie,” and acted as a distributor or “courier” for those groups. KATZ admitted that he was responsible for operating and maintaining several computers used in the warez scene, including a file server that was used to illegally collect, store, and distribute tens of thousands of pirated software titles, games, movies, and music files. Likewise, KAPECHUK admitted that he was responsible for operating and maintaining a number of warez servers located at the State University of New York at Albany, which were used to illegally collect, store, and distribute thousands of warez titles. And WILLSEY admitted that he assisted periodically in the maintenance of the SUNY-Albany warez sites.
These defendants were all prosecuted as a result of Operation Safehaven, a fifteen-month investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and the ICE Cyber Crimes Center, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut and the Department of Justice, Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (“CCIPS”). Building off the success of a previous Customs investigation called “Operation Buccaneer,” Operation Safehaven targeted a broader swath of warez participants. The investigation culminated in April 2003 with the simultaneous execution of over twenty (20) search warrants nationwide, resulting in the seizure of thousands of pirated CDs and DVDs, plus dozens of computers and servers, including the largest warez site ever seized in the United States to date.
“Software piracy is a growing, multi-billion dollar crime that hurts both businesses and consumers,” said Michael J. Garcia, Acting Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “ICE will continue to use its vital resources, such as the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center and the ICE Cyber Crimes Center to dismantle organizations using the Internet to facilitate IPR crime.”
When sentenced by United States District Judge Ellen Bree Burns, MYERS, KATZ, and KAPECHUK each face a possible punishment of up to five years’ imprisonment, three years’ supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. WILLSEY faces a possible punishment of up to one year’s imprisonment, one year’s supervised release, and a fine of up to $100,000.
United States Attorney O’Connor stated that, in addition to the guilty pleas entered yesterday and today, he expects additional prosecutions in the District of Connecticut as a result of Operation Safehaven.
United States Attorney O’Connor and Special-Agent-in-Charge Robin Avers praised the investigative efforts of Special Agent Peter F. Ross and ICE Analyst David E. Collins.
These cases were investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Shawn J. Chen and Mark G. Califano, and CCIPS Trial Attorney Kenneth L. Doroshow.