ORLANDO, Florida — U.S. authorities have arrested an Irish-born military contractor suspected of hacking into the computers of teenage girls around the world and threatening to post their personal information online unless they sent him revealing photos.
Patrick Connolly, who had been living at a U.S. military base in Baghdad, was charged with a single count of computer hacking following his arrest last Friday in Atlanta. Authorities have 30 days to obtain an indictment and more charges could be filed.
"Right now, he's facing some very serious charges," said Steve Cole, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.
After investigating him for five years, FBI agents were put back on Connolly's trail last January after he contacted via Facebook one of the teenage girls he had harassed years earlier.
Authorities said Tuesday it usually started with the girls getting persistent instant messages from an unfamiliar address.
When they asked who the sender was, they would get the response, "I'm your computer hacker." A request to send revealing photos would soon follow. If they refused, the hacker would threaten to post personal information online about the teenagers gathered from infiltrating their computers.
Many of the teen age girls complied.
Based on the court record, it didn't appear that Connolly had hired an attorney yet. Connolly had an initial court appearance in Atlanta on Monday and he was expected to be moved in the next several days to Orlando where he will have a detention hearing in federal court.
Six of the seven teenage girls named as victims in the criminal complaint lived in Florida — the Space Coast, Orlando and Miami — but authorities said he contacted teenage girls around the world beginning in 2005.
At various times Connolly threatened to hurt a teen age girl's sister, deleted permanent files on the computer of a second teenage girl for refusing to send suggestive images and warned he would send explicit Webcam images made by a third teen age girl to her grandmother if she didn't take more photos of herself, according to the criminal complaint.
He also showed up at the Orlando workplace of the third teen age girl, who was 16 at the time, wanting to take her to the Universal Studios theme park, the criminal complaint said. She refused.
Connolly embedded programs into the computers which gave him remote control of the computers and allowed him to look at photos and read files belonging to the teenage girls, according to the complaint.
FBI agents were helped in their investigation by a former accomplice who told authorities that he "shared victims" with Connolly. Ivory Dickerson pleaded guilty in 2007 to manufacturing child pornography and possessing child pornography.
Authorities said he had upwards of 4,000 victims on his computer. Despite his cooperation, Dickerson, of North Carolina, was sentenced to 110 years in prison. Dickerson has since filed a motion to vacate the sentence.
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