United States Attorney Paul J. McNulty and Michael Chertoff, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, announced today that John Sankus, Jr., age 28, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison by the Honorable Leonie M. Brinkema, United States District Judge, for conspiring to violate the criminal copyright laws as the leader of one of the oldest and largest international software piracy rings on the Internet. A co-conspirator, Barry Erickson, was sentenced to 33 months’ imprisonment on May 2, 2002. The sentences are the longest ever imposed for organized Internet software piracy.
John Sankus, known by his screen nickname eriFlleH (HellFire spelled backwards), was co-leader of the online software piracy group known as DrinkOrDie. DrinkOrDie was a highly organized, security-conscious, Internet software piracy group that specialized in acquiring new software, cracking it (i.e., stripping or circumventing its copyright protections), and releasing the software over the Internet. Sankus supervised and managed the daily operations of the approximately 65 group members from more than 12 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. DrinkOrDie concealed its illegal activities using an array of technology and security measures. Members sent e-mails via the group’s private mailserver using PGP encryption to encode their messages; members identified themselves only by screen nickname, never by their full real name, and communicated about group business only in closed, invite-only IRC channels; the group’s Internet file transfer and storage sites (FTP sites), which contained tens of thousands of pirated software, game, movie, and music titles, were password-protected and secured by a combination of user ID and IP address authentication mechanisms.
John Sankus and his techno-gang operated in the faceless world of the Internet and thought they would never be caught. They were wrong. These sentences, and those to follow, should send a message to others entertaining similar beliefs of invincibility, said U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty. DrinkOrDie’s organizational structure classified group members in four categories in order of importance and responsibility: Leader or co-leader, Council, Staff, and general membership. Council and Staff members generally were the most active in the group’s release work -- the process by which the group acquired, cracked, ripped, and distributed software over the Internet in violation of the copyright laws. Members designated as suppliers provided new software to the group often days or weeks before the software was commercially available. This included software manufactured not only by larger companies such as Microsoft, Adobe, Autodesk, Symantec, and Novell, but also by much smaller companies, some with as few as eight employees, whose livelihood depended on the sales revenue generated by one or two products a year. Once software was supplied, highly skilled “crackers” would permanently defeat its copyright protections, thereby allowing the software to be illegally reproduced, distributed and used by anyone obtaining a copy. The cracked version would then be tested, packed, and rapidly distributed over the Internet to an ever-expanding web of hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal Internet sites worldwide. Cracked software released by DrinkOrDie has been found on pay-for-access websites in the U.S. and abroad, including China.
Criminal operations such as DrinkOrDie and other organized piracy groups represent an unprecedented threat to intellectual property rights holders worldwide. The Department of Justice is committed to the continued prosecution of those most responsible for online piracy. We hope today’s sentencing and those in the coming weeks will serve as strong deterrents, but they should not be misconstrued by anyone as the end of our effort to stop illegal software piracy on the Internet, said Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff. Sankus is among more than 40 individuals worldwide targeted by Operation Buccaneer, a 14-month undercover investigation by the U.S. Customs Service that represents the largest international copyright piracy investigation to date by law enforcement. In addition to dismantling DrinkOrDie, Operation Buccaneer also netted members from a broad cross-section of leading online piracy groups (aka warez groups), including RiSC, RAZOR1911, RiSCISO, Request To Send (RTS), ShadowRealm (SRM), WomenLoveWarez (WLW), and POPZ.
“Star Wars Episode 2 opened in theaters only yesterday. But because of software pirates like John Sankus, it likely opened on the Internet weeks ago,” said U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner. “This is stealing, plain and simple, and those engaged in the theft of intellectual property deserve to be prosecuted and punished. The unprecedented penalty issued today should serve as a wake-up call to other cyber thieves.” Sankus and over a dozen co-conspirators are being prosecuted by the Eastern District of Virginia’s recently created Cybercrime Unit. The investigation and prosecution of hi-tech crime is a priority in this district, and the successful prosecution of John Sankus and his cohorts is a significant step in our continuing battle to reduce crime on the Internet, said U.S. Attorney McNulty. Attorney General John Ashcroft established similar units in 12 other districts across the United States in the past two years. Additionally, there are prosecutors in every U.S.
Attorney’s Office across the country who have received special training in computer crime and intellectual property offenses. To date in the Eastern District of Virginia, nine defendants have pled guilty, two have been sentenced, and five more will enter guilty pleas in the coming weeks, all as a result of Operation Buccaneer. Three defendants have pled guilty to federal felony copyright infringement charges in other districts (California and Illinois), and six defendants have been formally charged in the United Kingdom as a result of Operation Buccaneer. More prosecutions are expected in the U.S. and abroad, including Australia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway.
Prosecuting these cases for the United States are Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Wiechering; Michael DuBose, Senior Counsel, and Michael O’Leary, Trial Attorney, of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Department of Justice. Investigation conducted by the U.S. Customs Service, including the Customs CyberSmuggling Center in Fairfax, VA, and the Washington RAIC Office in Fairfax, VA. Assistance was provided by several intellectual property trade associations, including but not limited to the Interactive Digital Software Alliance (IDSA) and the Business Software Alliance (BSA).
In addition to JOHN SANKUS, Jr., the following individuals have either been sentenced or have pled guilty and are awaiting sentence in the Eastern District of Virginia: BARRY ERICKSON, age 35, of Eugene, Oregon, pled guilty on May 2, 2002, before U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton, to one felony count charging conspiracy to violate the criminal copyright laws, and was sentenced to a term of 33 months’ imprisonment, with a special term of three years supervised release. Erickson, who used the screen nickname radsl, was a systems engineer at Symantec Corporation who provided Symantec software to the warez groups DrinkOrDie and RiSCISO before that software was commercially available. Erickson was also a founding member of Parents On Puterz (POPZ), a warez group that specialized in the release of children’s learning software and games.
DAVID GRIMES, age 25, of Arlington, Texas, pled guilty on March 4, 2002, before U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton, to one felony count charging conspiracy to violate the criminal copyright laws. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 24, 2002. Grimes, who used the screen nickname chevelle, was a computer engineer at Check Point Software, a company specializing in Internet security software solutions. Grimes supplied Check Point firewall software to DrinkOrDie on at least two occasions, and he operated a file transfer and storage sites (FTP sites) known as High Octane. High Octane contained thousands of copies of pirated software, games, movies, and music, and it was affiliated with a number of top warez groups, including RiSC, MYTH, RTS, and DrinkOrDie.
RICHARD BERRY, age 34, of Rockville, Maryland, pled guilty on April 29, 2002, before U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton to one felony count charging conspiracy to violate the criminal copyright laws. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 19, 2002. Berry, who used the screen nickname flood, was Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Streampipe.com in Alexandria, VA. A longtime member of DrinkOrDie, he supplied members with computer hardware (e.g., PDAs, laptops), occasionally tested cracked software prior to its release by the group, and operated several Internet bounce sites that re-routed users to three of the group’s file storage and transfer sites (FTP sites) known as Fatal Error, Packet Storm, and Lake of Fire.
STACEY NAWARA, age 34, of Rosenberg, Texas, pled guilty on March 19, 2002, before U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis, to one felony count charging conspiracy to violate the criminal copyright laws. She is scheduled to be sentenced June 21, 2002. Nawara, who used the screen nickname avec, was a senior member of the warez courier group RequestToSend (RTS), a Council member in DrinkOrDie, and a leading courier for the warez group Razor1911, which specialized in releasing PC and console games.
SABUJ PATTANAYEK, age 20, of Durham, North Carolina, pled guilty on April 16, 2002, before U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis, to one felony count charging conspiracy to violate the criminal copyright laws. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 5, 2002. Pattanayek, who used the screen nickname buj, was a Council member in DrinkOrDie and the group’s top cracker. Pattanayek had also been a senior member of the top warez courier group Request To Send (RTS).
MICHAEL KELLY, age 21, of Miami, Florida, pled guilty on April 10, 2002, before U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris, to one felony count charging conspiracy to violate the criminal copyright laws. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 12, 2002. Kelly, who used the screen nickname erupt, was a systems network administrator for Gator Leasing, Inc., of Miami, Florida, from where he conducted many of his warez activities. A senior Staff member in DrinkOrDie, he also had past or current membership in the warez groups AMNESiA, CORP, and RiSC. His principal role was that of bot master, which in general terms meant that he developed automated computer programs, or enhanced existing programs, that were installed on group FTP sites and IRC channels to perform security and communication functions.
NATHAN D. HUNT, age 25, of Waterford, Pennsylvania, pled guilty on April 3, 2002, before U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, to one felony count charging conspiracy to violate the criminal copyright laws. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 21, 2002. Hunt, who used the screen nickname azide, was a senior member in DrinkOrDie and the group’s leading supplier of software. From November 2000 through October 2001, Hunt provided the group with more than 120 individual software titles, which were then stripped of copyright protections by group crackers such as buj (Sabuj Pattanayek, above) before being released over the Internet.
JOHN RIFFE, age 32, of Port St. John, Florida, pled guilty on May 9, 2002, before U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris, to one felony count charging criminal copyright infringement. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 26, 2002. Riffe, who used the screen nickname blue and blueadept, was a member of the warez groups ShadowRealm (SRM) and EXODUS, which specialized in the release of copyright-protected movies and television shows, respectively.