Bahamian man gets five years in U.S. prison for hacking celebrities

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Bahamian man was sentenced to five years in U.S. prison on Tuesday for hacking into celebrities’ email accounts to steal unreleased film and television scripts, personal information and sexually explicit videos in order to sell them.

An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer, in an office in Warsaw June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Alonzo Knowles, who maintained a list of 130 celebrities’ emails and phone numbers, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan. He pleaded guilty in May to charges of criminal copyright infringement and identity theft.

“You have some obvious facility for computers,” Engelmayer said. “But you chose to use your gifts for dark and lawless ends.”

Prosecutors said Knowles, of Freeport, Bahamas, accessed the accounts of actresses, musicians and others by sending their computers a virus or by emailing a fake notification that their account had been hacked and asking for their passwords.

Knowles, 24, stole at least 25 unreleased movie and television scripts, as well as music, financial documents and nude and intimate images and videos, prosecutors said.

The identities of most of the celebrities who were victimized have not been revealed. But one was Naturi Naughton, who stars in the Starz network series “Power” and who in a video submission to the court said she felt “violated.”

Among the scripts Knowles stole was one for “All Eyez On Me,” an upcoming biopic of Tupac Shakur, who died in a 1996 shooting, the film’s production company has said. He also stole scripts for two Twenty-First Century Fox Inc properties.

The investigation began last December after a radio host received an unsolicited offer from someone for scripts of a TV drama’s upcoming season, prompting him to contact the show’s executive producer, prosecutors said.

The investigation led to Knowles, who in video conference calls told an undercover U.S. Department of Homeland Security agent he had “exclusive content” worth “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” prosecutors said.

Knowles was arrested on Dec. 21, 2015, after flying to New York to try to sell the agent numerous scripts and several individuals’ personal information for $80,000, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said that even after pleading guilty, Knowles appeared anxious to continue exploiting celebrities once released.

In prison emails, Knowles boasted of plans once released to publish a book airing celebrities’ information, they said. Knowles’ lawyer countered he had no means to act on his statements.

In court on Tuesday, Knowles apologized for his conduct, saying he regretted “the stupid things I did and said.”