Jailed hacker and data theft mastermind Albert Gonzalez is reportedly seeking to appeal his guilty plea, arguing that he committed his crimes at the behest of the Secret Service, according to a report by Wired.
Gonzalez pleaded guilty to charges last year that he and his accomplices had hacked into TJX, Office Max, and Dave & Buster’s among others to steal upwards of $130 million. He is currently serving a twenty year sentence and a twenty year and one day sentence concurrently, the longest sentence ever handed down for crimes of computer or identity theft. Gonzalez claims all his crimes were authorized by the Secret Service and that he is merely being used as fall-man of sorts.
“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’s mistakes.”
The government acknowledges that Gonzalez was in their employ as an informant during the time that the breaches occurred. His work as an informant stemmed from a 2003 arrest for taking part in a scam whereby he had been using stolen card numbers to withdraw cash from ATM’s in New York.
Gonzalez now wants his guilty pleas thrown out, arguing that his attorneys failed to make it clear to him that he could prepare a “Public Authority” defense, a move by which one can claim that they committed a crime with government approval. Had he known this, Gonzalez contends he would have never entered a guilty plea.
Rene Palomino, one of Gonzalez’s attorneys, disagrees with the assertion that his crimes were approved by the Secret Service.
“He was given the opportunity of a lifetime to work for the Secret Service,” Palomino says. “He chose to become a criminal, bottom line, and become a double agent working both sides — the criminal side and the legal side.”
According to the report, Gonzalez became friendly with his holders. He claims he would go out drinking with them after work, and that on one occasion they even allowed him to commit crimes so he could pay back a debt to unnamed Russian criminal so as to not tarnish his reputation within criminal forums he regularly visited in the course of his work.
Gonzalez admits he may have gotten a little too big for his britches, so to speak, saying that one day he was a nothing, and the next day he was being heralded as a genius and giving presentations to the secret service. A transition Gonzalez admits went straight to his head.
“They treated me like one of their own and did everything but give me a gun and a badge,” Gonzalez writes of his Secret Service handlers. “On one occasion, even the possibility of a gun for protection was discussed if the need ever arose.”
Secret Service officials were unable to provide any further comment to Threat Level as the case continues to go through the appellate process.
For more depth and context, read Kim Zetter’s full report from Wired.com’s Threat Level.