A Bahamian bloke is accused of stealing scripts and raunchy private videos from celebrities – and selling them to an undercover agent.
Alonzo Knowles, 23, allegedly bragged he had infiltrated the email inboxes of people in the worlds of showbiz and sports – either by tricking them into handing over their account passwords in phishing emails, or by sending them malware that infected their PCs and snooped on their logins.
Ironically, the phishing emails were dressed as security alerts warning the victims their accounts had been hacked, and that if they sent over their passwords, someone in tech support would put everything right, we're told.
Knowles did not always target celebrities directly, it is claimed, but instead noted which friends they were photographed with in gossip magazines, and went after those pals instead. Once in their accounts, it's alleged, he rifled through their inboxes to get the celebs' contact details.
Once Knowles broke into the stars' messages, he swiped copies of upcoming TV and movie scripts, 30 unreleased tracks from a "very popular A-list celebrity," and sexually explicit private photos and videos, it is claimed.
We're told an executive producer tipped off US Homeland Security of the hack after hearing that Knowles, of Freeport, Bahamas, was touting copies of the scripts.
In a Facetime video call with an undercover g-man, Knowles boasted he had laid his hands on celebrities' private sexy snaps and videos, their social security numbers, scans of passports, and other material that could be used for blackmail or identity theft, it is claimed. The alleged hacker showed off an X-rated private video of a radio host as proof of his skills.
On December 21, in a followup meeting in New York City with the agent, Knowles tried to flog about a dozen movie and television scripts, and the social security numbers of three athletes and a film actress, for $80,000, it is claimed.
Minutes later, Knowles was collared by Homeland Security investigators, and charged [PDF] with one count of criminal copyright infringement and one count of identity theft.
"This case has all of the elements of the kind of blockbuster script the defendant, Alonzo Knowles, is alleged to have stolen: hacks into celebrities' private emails, identity theft, and attempts to sell victims' information to the highest bidder," Manhattan US attorney Preet Bharara said on Tuesday.
"Unfortunately, these circumstances are all too real."
Knowles faces up to ten years behind bars if found guilty. No date has been set as yet for his trial. ®