The hacker behind a massive credit card heist deemed the largest cybercrime ever prosecuted in the United States is now claiming the U.S. government authorized his criminal actions.
In 2010, Albert Gonzalez was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for hacking into the computer systems of T.J. Maxx, Office Max, Dave & Buster’s, 7-Eleven, Heartland Payment Systems and other companies and stealing more than 130 million credit card and debit card numbers between 2005 and 2007, Wired magazine reported.
Gonzalez, 29, admitted to the crime and is currently behind bars in Michigan, but now asserts that his criminal activity was sanctioned. On March 24, Gonzalez filed a habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts alleging that the Secret Service authorized him to carry out the credit card fraud.
“I still believe that I was acting on behalf of the United States Secret Service and that I was authorized and directed to engage in the conduct I committed as part of my assignment to gather intelligence and seek out international cyber criminals,” Gonzalez wrote in his 25-page petition. “I now know and understand that I have been used as a scapegoat to cover someone else’s mistakes.”
There may be some merit to Gonzalez’s assertion. After a 2003 arrest for withdrawing cash from ATMs using stolen card numbers, Gonzalez became a confidential informant for the Secret Service, Wired reported. Yet at the same time he was helping to bring down fraudsters, Gonzalez continued operating a criminal ring he called “ Operation Get Rich or Die Tryin’.”
Gonzalez’s former attorney, Rene Palomino, doesn’t believe his plea. He told Wired that Gonzalez’s decision to break the law — again — was his and his alone.
“He was given the opportunity of a lifetime to work for the Secret Service,” Palomino said. “He chose to become a criminal, bottom line.”
Gonzalez's plea is currently going through the appellate process.