TJX hacker appeals his sentence, claims US government sanctioned his crimes
Albert Gonzales has become a well-known name in information security circles when he was charged of having organized a gang of cyber thieves that managed to steal over 130 million debit and credit card numbers form TJX, Heartland Payment Systems, 7-Eleven and various other retailers.
Despite all his efforts and claims of suffering of Asperger’s syndrome and computer addiction, and pointing out that he had cooperated with the authorities, he was sentenced – a little over a year ago – to 20 years in prison for the TJX hack, and 20 more for the data breach involving the other retailers. He is currently serving both sentences in a low-security federal prison in Michigan, and is supposed to be released in 2025.
But it would seem that he is far from reconciled with that fact. He has been researching options for appealing the sentence and has found one.
According to Wired, he is asking the court to throw out his earlier guilty pleas and annul both sentences because government agents authorized his hacking. As you might remember, during the time he executed the breaches he was also working for the Secret Service as an informant.
“How come he didn’t say so at the trials?” – you might ask. According to him, he didn’t know that he could use a “Public Authority” defense, which essentially means that the defendant justifies his or her actions by saying that the government authorities have sanctioned them.
He blames his lawyers for not having him informed of the possibility, and says he would have never plead guilty to the charges if he had been aware of this.
“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,” he wrote in the petition to the court. “I now know and understand that I have been used as a scapegoat to cover someone’s mistakes.”
He goes on explaining how the Secret Service agents whom he worked with have turned a bling eye on some of his illegal actions that weren’t tied to the case, and how the way they treated him made him feel like he was a part of the Secret Service with the backing and support of the government agency.
“At that point I would have done anything they asked me to do,” he says. “I was overwhelmed and felt like I could do no wrong.” He says he did things that he knew were illegal because he wanted to please the agents and because they said they would step in and clear him of charges if he was ever arrested.
His former lawyers dispute his claims, and the Secret Service said it was unable to comment until the matter was settled in the appellate court.