The mayor of a northern New Jersey city has been arrested and charged with hacking into the accounts of his political rivals and shutting down a website calling for his recall.
FBI agents arrested West New York Mayor Felix Roque, 55, and his son, Joseph, 22, yesterday morning (May 24). They were later charged with gaining unauthorized access to computers, causing damage to protected computers and conspiracy, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a press release.
According to the criminal complaint unsealed yesterday, Roque and his son allegedly hacked into several online accounts used in setting up www.recallroque.com, a website reportedly created as an outlet for citizens to post criticism of the mayor and his administration.
The website was established on Feb. 4; on a request from his father, Joseph Roque reportedly used his privileged access to disable the site four days later. Recallroque.com, purchased through Internet service provider GoDaddy.com, is currently offline
After taking the site offline, the mayor then allegedly "harassed and attempted to intimidate several individuals whom he had learned were associated with the recall website," the U.S. Attorney's Office said. According to The Star-Ledger, the website was set up by Jose Munoz, a Freehold, N.J., resident, along with a Hudson County employee, a Hudson County resident, a former West New York employee and a local media personality.
"In this case, the elected leader of West New York and his son allegedly hacked into computers to intimidate constituents who were simply using the Internet to exercise their constitutional rights to criticize the government," U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said. "We will continue to investigate and prosecute those who illegally hack into computers and disable websites with the goal of suppressing the exercise of that right."
Roque and his son were both released on a $100,000 bail. Each faces up to 11 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if convicted of all three charges. A preliminary hearing for both men has been scheduled for June 4.
Roque, a Democrat, unseated former Mayor Sal Vega last May. His support for New Jersey's Republican governor, Chris Christie "angered many in his urban community," The Star-Ledger said, which led to the creation of the opposition website.
In the official press release, FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward expressed his disappointment that federal resources and energies "have to be diverted from protecting the U.S. against cyberintrusions targeting critical infrastructure, federally funded research and military technology, to address a public official intruding into computer systems to further a political agenda."