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Financial Crimes
12/08/2016

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Bahamian national sentenced in New York to 5 years for cyber-hacking scheme

NEW YORK — A Bahamian man was sentenced Tuesday to five years in federal prison after being arrested last year for criminal copyright infringement of scripts of movies and television shows that had not yet aired, as well as theft of personally identifiable. 

The 2015 arrest resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Alonzo Knowles, 23, of Freeport, Bahamas, was arrested after a meeting with an HSI undercover special agent in New York. During the meeting, Knowles attempted to sell to the special agent, in exchange for $80,000, approximately 15 movies and television scripts, sexually explicit videos of celebrities and other professionals in the entertainment and media industry that he had unlawfully obtained. He also provided the undercover agent with social security numbers of three professional athletes and a movie actress.

According to the court records, Knowles unlawfully accessed the personal email accounts of numerous individuals in the entertainment, sports, and media industries.  As a result of this hacking scheme, Knowles obtained copyrighted and confidential documents, including scripts of movies and television shows that had not yet been publicly released, personal identifying information such as Social Security numbers, and private sexually explicit photographs and videos.

Over the course of two weeks in December 2015, Knowles and an undercover HSI special agent communicated about the stolen materials Knowles sought to sell. Knowles claimed he had “exclusive content” that was “really profitable” and worth “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Knowles further stated he obtained the material directly from the victims without their knowledge, and claimed to be able to acquire such material from at least some of the approximately 130 additional victims whose email addresses and phone numbers he had in his possession.

On December 21, 2015, Knowles met with the undercover agent in New York City.  During their meeting, Knowles described two methods he used to hack each victim’s email account. The easier method involved sending a virus to the victim’s computer that would enable Knowles to access it. The more difficult method involved Knowles sending a false hacking notification to a victim and asking for their passcodes. 

Once Knowles had used the passcodes to successfully access the victim’s email account, Knowles would change the settings in the email account in order to continue accessing the email account.

Knowles was arrested December 21, 2015 while attempting to sell this information.

Knowles possessed a laptop computer in the Bahamas, which he did not bring to New York in December 2015. According to Knowles, the computer contained confidential information, which he obtained via hacking, relating to various celebrities.  Knowles intended to sell this confidential information after serving a prison term for the instant offense. After his arrest in December 2015 and before his sentencing, Knowles stated in his prison correspondence that he was willing to serve additional time in prison in order to retain the computer. Pursuant to a Consent Preliminary Order of Forfeiture, Knowles produced a laptop computer to a court-appointed receiver, which the receiver concluded was the computer containing stolen materials at issue in this case. The laptop has been subsequently destroyed.

The prosecution of this case is being handled by the SDNY’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. The charges in the complaint are merely accusations. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. 

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 03/14/2017