News and Press Releases

United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington

 Seattle Man Sentenced To Prison For Computer Hacking, Fraud And Identity Theft

Defendant Led group that Burglarized Companies, Hacked into Computer Networks, Stole Personal Information and Altered Payroll

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 13, 2012

            A Seattle man was sentenced today to 95 months in prison and three years of supervised release for a crime spree that involved both physical burglary, and hacking into computer systems to steal personal and business information used in a variety of thefts and frauds, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  JOSHUAH ALLEN WITT, 35, pleaded guilty in April 2012 to conspiracy to intentionally access a protected computer without authorization with intent to defraud, intentionally causing and attempting to cause damage to a protected computer and thereby causing loss in excess of $5,000, accessing a protected computer without authorization to further fraud, access device fraud, and aggravated identity theft.  Over the 30 months of this conspiracy, more than fifty local businesses were damaged and defrauded of more than $3 million.  At sentencing U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones said the crime impacted an enormous number of people.  “For some of these individuals it will be years, if not a lifetime, to recover from the conduct you engaged in,” Judge Jones told WITT.

            “This sends a strong message to these modern day bank robbers: Hack and steal at your own peril, as the consequence is prison time,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan who leads the Justice Department’s Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Enforcement working group.   “I commend the businesses who quickly alerted law enforcement about the intrusions on their computer systems.  Without their help, law enforcement could not have put this ring out of business.”

            According to records in the case, beginning in 2008 and continuing into 2010, WITT, and two other defendants, John Earl Griffin, 36, and Brad Eugene Lowe, 39, hacked the networks of more than a dozen businesses and burgled more than 40 businesses to steal equipment and obtain personal and business information used for fraud.  The ring obtained credit card numbers and used them to purchase tens of thousands of dollars of high tech equipment and luxury goods that they used or sold.  They hijacked payroll information so that payroll funds would be distributed to accounts under their control and sent company funds to reloadable debit cards, allowing them to rapidly cash out the company accounts.  The ring broke into businesses and stole computer equipment which they then used to hack into the company’s network.  The men outfitted at least one vehicle with high tech equipment, including extensive antennas, allowing them to search for wireless networks they could use both for hacking or to hide their ‘digital fingerprints’ when they accessed a company network.  The steps they took to hide their identities led to innocent third parties or company employees being suspected and interviewed by law enforcement.  From one Renton, Washington, business the men hacked in and stole the personal information of more than 50 employees.

            In their sentencing memo, prosecutors describe how WITT was involved in every facet of the crimes from the burglaries to the hacking to the financial fraud.  Prosecutors urged a sentence at the high end of the guidelines to deter those who would commit crimes in cyberspace.  “Computers and computer networks are now integral to virtually every facet of business and commercial life. Businesses must necessarily be digital, in order to survive. Unfortunately, this digital revolution has also created new and unprecedented opportunities for crimes on a scale, and at a speed that were impossible in the strictly “physical” world. Hackers can access personal and financial data remotely, and then turn around and exploit it in innumerable ways, and in myriad venues, within a matter of hours. What the hackers can do in hours, takes victims and law enforcement weeks, months, and sometimes years to understand, analyze and successfully investigate,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.

            In May 2012, John Earl Griffin, was sentenced to 95 months in prison and three years of supervised release.  Brad Eugene Lowe, 39, was sentenced to 78 months in prison and three years of supervised release.  In August 2012, Judge Jones will determine the amount of restitution the men owe.  The figure is expected to be in excess of $3 million.

            “This investigation highlights the cooperative effort of the Secret Service and our partners in pursuing high tech criminals who would prey on the economic vitality of our local businesses,” said Robert Kierstead, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service in Seattle. “The Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force exemplifies law enforcement’s commitment to investigating this type of nefarious activity, and demonstrates the ability to keep pace with the increasing complexity of cyber crime.”

The case was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force comprised of officers and agents from the Seattle Police Department, King County Sheriff’s Department, Kirkland Police Department, Bellevue Police Department, and Lynnwood Police Department.  Significant additional assistance was provided by the Redmond, Renton, Woodinville and Bothell Police Departments.

            The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kathryn Warma.

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