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Computer hacker Albert Gonzalez pleads guilty

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January 2, 2010

A Miami, Florida hacker who had already pleaded guilty to computer system fraud and identity theft for breaches at retailers T.J. Maxx, OfficeMax and a few other online merchants, just pleaded guilty to similar crimes related to security breaches at Heartland Payment Systems, 7-11, Hannaford Brothers supermarkets and two other online retailers.

Albert Gonzalez, 28, reiterated terms of a previous plea agreement in U.S. District Court in Boston. On Dec. 22, co-conspirator Stephen Watt of New York, appeared in that same court and was ordered to serve 2 years in state prison and pay over $171.4 million in restitution and various court fines for developing a sniffing program used to acquire credit card data in the breach at the TJX companies between 2003 and 2008.

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Separately, Gonzalez also has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud related to hacks into the network of the Dave & Buster's restaurant chain.

Gonzalez was the ringleader in what authorities have said constituted the largest identity fraud scam in the United States so far.

In the first case, Gonzalez agreed in September 2009 to forfeit more than $2.7 million in restitution, as well as a condo, jewelry and a car as part of his plea agreement. In addition to the TJX Companies, Gonzalez's computer hacking ring is accused of breaches at BJ's Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority and others.

Gonzalez and two Russian men were indicted in the Heartland case in August 2009, accused of stealing data related to more than 130 million credit and debit cards. Retailer Target says that it was one of the victims of Gonzalez. "We believe that, at most, only a tiny fraction of guest credit and debit card data used at our stores may have been involved," Target spokeswoman Amy Reilly said.

Gonzalez's attorneys, in seeking the minimum sentence, have suggested that he may have Asperger's Disorder. He has admitted in court that he had abused alcohol and drugs for years.

Gonzalez, a former federal government informant, faces several sentences of up to 25 years in state prison.

Sentencing is set for some time in March 2010.

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