A hacker caught trying to sell a trove of data stolen from the email accounts of over 100 celebrities has pleaded guilty to criminal copyright infringement and identity theft. Alonzo Knowles, 24, from Freeport, Bahamas, now faces up to 10 years in prison for targeting 130 celebrities and stealing confidential information that included unreleased scripts, social security numbers (SSNs) and even a sex tape.
He was caught by police attempting to sell the data in December 2015 and is now slated to be formally sentenced on 25 August later this year.
Under a plea deal Knowles agreed to forfeit $1,900 (£1,300) alongside 25 unpublished scripts and copies of unreleased music that was found by investigators in a Dropbox account.
The suspect also agreed to waive his right to appeal any sentence below four years in prison, while prosecutors in the case have recommended a sentence of between 27 and 33 months. According to Reuters, Knowles told the court: "I am sorry for my actions."
As previously reported, the suspect approached a radio talk show host last year and offered to sell chunks of the stolen information – including 30 unreleased tracks off a future album of a "very popular" A-list celebrity, alongside scripts for three comedy films, a TV show and a biopic about rapper Tupac Shakur.
Court documents – which did not identify the victims' names or exact titles of the compromised scripts – noted that Knowles' victims included movie and television actors, a casting director, a popular singer-songwriter and a hip-hop artist.
After being contacted, the radio host told a producer from one of the shows involved, who then involved the US Department of Homeland Security. In the subsequent investigation, which led directly to Knowles, the suspect told an undercover agent posing as a prospective buyer that he had "exclusive content" worth "hundreds of thousands of dollars".
In future messages, Knowles revealed using social engineering tactics and tech-savvy trickery to lure his celebrity victims into handing over the login credentials to their email accounts. In some cases, he had used malware to gain access to computers. On 21 December, Knowles travelled to New York City under the impression he was about to sell the trove of data. The undercover agent handed him $80,000 (£55,000) in cash for the stolen scripts and, once he accepted, Knowles was swiftly arrested.
Manhattan US 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."