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Press Release

Mexican Businessman Admits to Brokering Spyware Used to Monitor Political and Business Rivals

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

For Further Information, Contact:
Assistant U. S. Attorney Sabrina L. Fève (619) 546-6786

SAN DIEGO – Mexican-American businessman Julio Santamaria pleaded guilty in federal court today, admitting that he conspired to sell and use private computer-hacking tools in Mexico and the U.S. in order to monitor political and business rivals.

According to court documents, beginning in or about January 2016, Santamaria began working for a consortium of U.S. and Mexican companies, including a company called Elite By Carga, for which he brokered the sale of interception and surveillance tools to private citizens and Mexican politicians. Prior to working for this consortium, Santamaria worked for Mexico’s Procuraduría General de la República, or “PGR.”

Santamaria admitted to knowing that, in some cases, their Mexican government clients intended to use the interception equipment for political purposes, rather than for legitimate law enforcement purposes. In one case, they knowingly arranged for a Mexican mayor to gain unauthorized access to a political rival’s Twitter, Hotmail, and iCloud accounts. Guerrero and Moreno also admitted that the hacking tools and technologies they brokered would be used for commercial and personal purposes by private clients.

“Today’s guilty plea helps stem the proliferation of digital tools used for repression and advances the digital security of both U.S. and Mexican citizens,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “This office is committed to disrupting malicious cyber activities and mitigating unlawful surveillance.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and federal agents for their hard work on the case.

“Today’s guilty plea demonstrates cyberspace is not a refuge from American justice, and as seen in this case, those who violate privacy rights will be held accountable,” said Special Agent in Charge, Chad Plantz, HSI San Diego. “HSI and our law enforcement partners remain committed to protecting the American public from individuals attempting to illegally intercept private communications for illicit gain.”

This case was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance provided by the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.

DEFENDANTS                                                                Case Number 23cr0185JLS
Julio Santamaria                             Age: 49                         Los Angeles, California

Conspiracy – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 371 (to violate 18 U.S.C. §§ 2511(1)(a) and 2512(1)(b))
Maximum penalty: Five years in prison and $250,000 fine

Homeland Security Investigations

*The charges and allegations contained in an Information are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Updated February 8, 2023

Press Release Number: CAS23-0207-Santamaria