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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Bahamas Man Sentenced To 5 Years In Prison For Cyber Hacking Scheme To Steal Celebrities’ Personal And Copyrighted Information

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that ALONZO KNOWLES, a/k/a “Jeff Moxey,” was sentenced today to five years in prison for criminal copyright infringement of scripts of movies and television shows that had not yet aired, as well as theft of personally identifiable information, all of which KNOWLES obtained by hacking into the email accounts of numerous individuals in the entertainment, sports, and media industries.  KNOWLES pled guilty on May 9, 2016, before U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer, who imposed today’s sentence.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said:   “Alonzo Knowles hacked into the private emails of entertainment and sports celebrities, stole personal information and property, including unreleased movie and television scripts, and attempted to sell them to the highest bidder.  For his frightful violation of privacy, Knowles has been sentenced to substantial term of imprisonment.”

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

KNOWLES unlawfully accessed the personal email accounts of numerous individuals in the entertainment, sports, and media industries (the “Victims”).  As a result of this hacking scheme, KNOWLES obtained 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 stolen materials 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 email 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 email account.  The easier method involved sending a virus to the Victim’s computer that would enable KNOWLES to access it.  The more difficult method 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 email account, KNOWLES, unbeknownst to the Victim, would change the settings in the Victim’s email account in order to continue to access to the email account.  In order to avoid detection from the Victim, KNOWLES would delete notifications from the email service provider regarding changes to the settings of the Victim’s email account.  On December 21, 2015, KNOWLES attempted to sell numerous movie and television scripts and personally identifiable information that he had unlawfully obtained from the Victims to the UC in exchange for thousands of dollars, whereupon KNOWLES was arrested.

KNOWLES possessed a laptop computer in the Bahamas (the “Computer”), which he did not bring to New York in December 2015.  According to KNOWLES, the Computer contained confidential information, which he obtained via hacking, relating to various celebrities.  KNOWLES intended to sell this confidential information after serving a prison term for the instant offense.  After his arrest in December 2015 and before his sentencing, KNOWLES stated in his prison correspondence that he was willing to serve additional time in prison in order to retain the Computer.  Pursuant to a Consent Preliminary Order of Forfeiture issued by Judge Engelmayer, KNOWLES produced a laptop computer to a court-appointed receiver, which the receiver concluded was the Computer containing stolen materials at issue in this case.  Pursuant to Judge Engelmayer’s order, KNOWLES’s laptop has been subsequently destroyed.

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In addition to the prison term, KNOWLES, 24, of Freeport, Bahamas, was ordered to pay a $200 special assessment.  A money judgment in the amount of $1,982.71 was also entered, and the defendant’s right, title, and interest in specific property seized by the Department of Homeland Security – including copyrighted materials, personally identifiable information of others, sexually explicit content of others, an iPad, and a phone – were ordered to be forfeited to the United States.

Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the Department of Homeland Security.

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.

Topic(s): 
Cyber Crime
Press Release Number: 
16-326
Updated December 6, 2016