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Press Release

Bahamas Man Pleads Guilty To Hacking Scheme To Steal Celebrities’ Copyrighted And Personal Information

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

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that ALONZO KNOWLES pled guilty today in Manhattan federal court to criminal copyright infringement of scripts of movies and television shows that had not yet aired, as well as identity theft of personal identification information, all of which KNOWLES obtained by hacking into the personal e-mail accounts of numerous individuals in the entertainment, sports, and media industries.  He pled guilty before U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said:  “Alonzo Knowles targeted and hacked into the private emails of celebrities in entertainment and in professional sports.  His crimes did not end with this frightening invasion of privacy, as Knowles then sought to sell what he stole, including unreleased movie and television scripts, to the highest bidder.  Thanks to the terrific work of the Homeland Security Investigations agents and prosecutors in my office, this story of cybercrime meets celebrity stalking ends well, with the perpetrator caught and convicted.”

According to the Indictment, other documents filed in Manhattan federal court, and statements made at various proceedings in this case, including yesterday’s guilty plea:

ALONZO KNOWLES unlawfully accessed the personal e-mail accounts of numerous individuals in the entertainment, sports, and media industries (the “Victims”).  As a result of his hacking scheme, KNOWLES obtained the Victims’ copyrighted and confidential documents, including scripts of movies and television shows that had not yet been publicly released, personal identifying information such as Social Security numbers, and private sexually explicit photographs and videos. 

Over the course of two weeks in December 2015, KNOWLES and an undercover law enforcement agent (the “UC”) communicated about the material KNOWLES sought to sell to the UC.  KNOWLES claimed to the UC that he had “exclusive content” that was “really profitable” and worth “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”  KNOWLES stated that he obtained the material directly from the Victims without their knowledge, and claimed to be able to acquire such material from at least some of the approximately 130 Victims whose e-mail addresses and phone numbers he had in his possession. 

On December 21, 2015, KNOWLES met with the UC in New York, New York.  During their meeting, KNOWLES described two methods he used to hack each Victim’s e-mail account.  The "easier” method, according to KNOWLES, involved sending a virus to the Victim’s computer that would enable KNOWLES to access it.  The more difficult method, according to KNOWLES, involved KNOWLES sending a false hacking notification to the Victim and asking the Victim for his passcodes.  Once KNOWLES had used the Victim’s passcodes to successfully access the Victim’s e-mail account, KNOWLES, unbeknownst to the Victim, would change the settings in the Victim’s e-mail account in order to continue to access to it.  In order to avoid detection from the Victim, KNOWLES would delete notifications from the e-mail service provider regarding changes to the settings of the Victim’s e-mail account.  KNOWLES attempted to sell numerous movie and television scripts and personal identifying information that he had unlawfully obtained from the Victims to the UC in exchange for thousands of dollars, whereupon KNOWLES was arrested.

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KNOWLES, 24, of Freeport, Bahamas, faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and six years of supervised release.  The statutory maximum sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.  KNOWLES is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Engelmayer on August 25, 2016.

Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant United States Attorney Kristy J. Greenberg is in charge of the prosecution.

Updated May 9, 2016

Press Release Number: 16-116