* Hacker Albert Gonzalez says he abused drugs
* Sentencing hearings scheduled for March
BOSTON Dec 29 A 28-year-old college dropout
pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges that he stole tens of
millions of payment card numbers by breaking into corporate
Albert Gonzalez told a federal judge in Boston that he
engineered electronic heists at companies including payment
card processor Heartland Payment Systems HPY.N, 7-Eleven Inc
and the Hannaford chain of New England grocery stores.
Gonzalez has previously pleaded guilty to computer
break-ins at retailers TJX Cos Inc (TJX.N), BJ's Wholesale Club
Inc BJ.N and Barnes & Noble (BKS.N).
He faces 17 to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced in
March in the largest case of identity theft in U.S. history.
The two judges responsible for doling out the punishment have
considerable leeway in sentencing.
"You face a considerable amount of time in jail as a result
of your plea," U.S. district Judge Douglas Woodlock told
Gonzalez. "All aspects of your life are to be affected."
Gonzalez's attorney, Martin Weinberg, has asked for the
judges to be lenient, saying his client suffers from Internet
addiction, drug abuse and symptoms of a mild form of autism
known as Asperger syndrome.
Gonzalez, who appeared in court wearing a beige prison
uniform, told the judge that he had abused alcohol and illegal
drugs for years. He mentioned marijuana, cocaine, LSD, ketamine
and hallucinogenic mushrooms.
"It's one of the reasons to explain why a young man in his
20s did these things," Weinberg said.
A psychiatrist hired by Gonzalez has told the court that
the hacker's criminal behavior "was consistent with the
description of the Asperger's disorder." Prosecutors have
petitioned the court to perform their own psychiatric
evaluation of Gonzalez.
Weinberg has sought to block that request, saying it is
unprecedented to conduct a psychiatric evaluation prior to
sentencing. "He's admitted responsibility. He is remorseful,"
A U.S. federal court in Boston last week sentenced one of
Gonzalez's conspirators, Stephen Watt of New York, to two years
in prison for developing the software used to capture payment
card data. It also ordered him to pay $171.5 million in
(Reporting by Jim Finkle; Editing by Richard Chang)