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Press Release

Former Michigan Resident Admits Hacking UPMC HR Databases and Stealing Employees’ Personal Information

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Pennsylvania

PITTSBURGH, PA - A Michigan man pleaded guilty today to hacking the human resources databases of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and stealing Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of more than 65,000 UPMC employees, Acting United States Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman announced today.

Justin Sean Johnson, aka TheDearthStar and Dearthy Star on the dark web, 30, of Detroit, Michigan, pleaded guilty to Counts 1 and 39 of a 43-count Indictment before Chief United States District Judge Mark R. Hornak. Johnson was indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh on May 20, 2020, and the case was unsealed on June 18, 2020 following his arrest.

In connection with the guilty plea, the court was advised that Johnson, known on the dark web as TheDearthStar and Dearthy Star, infiltrated and hacked into the UPMC human resource server databases in 2013 and 2014 and stole sensitive PII and W-2 information belonging to tens of thousands of UPMC employees. The information was sold by Johnson on dark web forums for use by conspirators, who promptly filed hundreds of false 1040 tax returns in 2014 using UPMC employee PII. These false 1040 filings claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars of false tax refunds, which they converted into gift cards, which were then used to purchase Amazon merchandise which was shipped to Venezuela.

Additionally, Johnson, from 2014 through 2017 stole and sold nearly 90,000 additional (non-UPMC) sets of PII to buyers on dark web forums, which could be used to commit identity theft and bank fraud.

The scheme resulted in approximately $1.7 million in false tax return refunds.

The law provides for a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of not more than $250,000 for the conspiracy to defraud the United States; and a mandatory 24 months in prison and a fine of not more than $250,000 for each count of aggravated identity theft. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

Pending sentencing the Court ordered Johnson remain detained.

Assistant United States Attorney Gregory C. Melucci is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.

Agents from the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the United States Secret Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation leading to the prosecution of Johnson.

Updated May 20, 2021

Identity Theft