Alonzo Knowles, a 24-year-old Bahamian male, has received five years in prison for violating the privacy of celebrities, athletes and famous personalities by hacking into their email accounts and stealing movie scripts, personal video clips and pictures from them.
That list of crimes according to The NewYork Times doesn’t end here since Knowles also sent emails from jailhouse in which he categorically stated that as soon as he is released, he would “shake up Hollywood for real!”.
Sending out threats from detention is also considered a crime and it did come under the consideration of the federal judge while sentencing.
It is worth noting that the number of years in Knowles’ sentence was doubled to what was suggested in the federal sentencing guidelines. The sentence was announced by Judge Paul A. Engelmayer of Federal District Court.
According to Justice Engelmayer, the crimes committed by Knowles were not only “deeply troubling” but “dark” as well and he told Knowles that he decided to use his “gifts”, and “know-how” for “dark and lawless ends.”
Knowles illegally accessed email accounts of celebrities to get unreleased television and movie scripts as well as confidential content and personal data. Apparently, the hacker was trying to steal the information with the sole objective of selling it to make money.
According to the details produced by the prosecutors, Knowles stole financial documents, unreleased music, nude images and intimate videos of the celebs.
However, initially, the accused pleaded guilty before the federal court and even apologized stating that he knew that his act was wrong. But, the impact of this pleading was sabotaged when Mr. Knowles sent emails from jailhouse stating that he will expose the secrets of the victims whom accounts he managed to hack into and will also write a book about it.
In documents issued by the government, the content of emails written by Mr. Knowles was revealed:
“Im name dropping everyone involved and what I know and im including pictures of paperwork that ain’t public.”
Additionally, Mr. Knowles also mentioned that he would be charging $35 per copy and would later hack Twitter accounts for promoting his book. Furthermore, he explained that his objective was to earn money through gossiping since “everyone loves gossip. I can’t wait to get out I already know how the cover is gonna look.”
The emails text was produced before Justice Engelmayer by the prosecutors in a sentencing memorandum. The emails were sent through the Bureau of Prisons’ email system. Prisoners can use this system after consenting to monitor of their sent messages.
Justice Engelmayer stated that the accused’s messages were “devoid of any remorse,” and depicted that if he has gotten released from prison he would have become a “clear and present danger to commit the very same crime again.”
“Unavoidably, Mr. Knowles the public has a significant interest in your being behind bars in federal prison where you have no access to the internet and no practical ability to do such harm,” added Justice Engelmayer.
One of the prosecutors, Kristy J. Greenberg, believed that the main motivating factor of the hacker was greed since he “had a singular focus on becoming rich and famous by disseminating personal information of celebrities and exploiting them.”
Victims have also submitted their impact statements to the judge. One of the victims was Naturi Naughton, the actress in drama Power produced by Starz. Naughton issued her statement via video clip and stated that Mr. Knowles hacked into her private emails account and stole six scripts of her show “Power.”
Naughton added that the hacker then attempted to extort not only her but also her show’s producer, 50 Cent and her showrunner. The hack attack and subsequent harassment by Knowles made Naughton feel “more violated and out of control” than ever in her entire life so far.
Mr. Knowles’ lawyer Clay Kaminsky suggested a 14 months’ sentence while the accused faced a maximum sentence of 10 years. As per the federal sentencing guidelines, the recommended sentence fell between 27 to 33 months.
The case was a high-profile one and garnered immense public and media attention since the arrest of the accused in December 2015. It must be noted that Mr. Knowles was flying to New York and had planned a meeting with a potential buyer for selling his stolen scripts when he was arrested. However, he didn’t know that the person posing as the buyer was actually an undercover agent.
Knowles met the undercover agent in New York in December 2015 for selling “really profitable exclusive content [worth] hundreds of thousands of dollars” that he had managed to obtain through the hacks.
While they were discussing the deal, Knowles admitted that the content was acquired from the victims’ email accounts illegally and that he managed to hack accounts of around 130 victims. Knowles also acknowledge that he used the pseudonym “Jeff Moxley,” and further admitted that he utilized a combination of password-revealing malware and phish attacks to hack into the email accounts of famous celebs.
The case received more attention because it came soon after the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment hack in 2014.