Latvian man spared more U.S. prison time over Gozi computer virus

NEW YORK, Jan 5 (Reuters) - A Latvian man was spared further prison time on Tuesday for what U.S. prosecutors said was his crucial role in a conspiracy to distribute a computer virus that infected more than a million computers worldwide.

Deniss Calovskis, 30, spent 21 months in prison before he pleaded guilty in September and admitted to having written some of the computer code for the so-called Gozi virus. At the time, prosecutors sought additional time in custody.

U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood in Manhattan called Calovskis’ conduct serious but said “the goal of punishment has been served already.”

David Bertan, Calovskis’ lawyer, said the sentence, which also includes an order that he forfeit $1,000, could mean his client could be returned to Latvia within weeks.

The Gozi virus, used to steal personal bank account information of computer users while remaining virtually undetectable, was discovered by computer security experts in 2007.

The indictment of Calovskis was unsealed in January 2013, as prosecutors announced charges against Nikita Kuzmin, the virus’ Russian creator, and Mihai Ionut Paunescu, a Romanian accused of running a service that enabled its distribution.

By that time, prosecutors said, more than a million computers worldwide had been infected, including at least 17,000 in the United States, and tens of millions of dollars in losses had been caused.

Prosecutors said Kuzmin was the operation’s mastermind, conceiving of the virus in 2005 and running a business that rented out the virus to other cyber criminals intent on stealing money from banks.

Calovskis, who was known online as “Miami,” helped develop code that increased the virus’ effectiveness by altering the appearance of banks’ websites, tricking victims into divulging their information, prosecutors said.

The Riga, Latvia resident spent 11 months in U.S. custody following his extradition in February 2015 from his home country, where he was arrested in 2012 and previously spent 10 months in jail.

Calovskis, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit computer intrusion, had been a freelance programmer at the time of the offense. Bertan said Calovskis at the time was seeking money amid an economic crisis and his father developing cancer.

“I must say it was the biggest mistake,” Calovskis said in court.

Kuzmin, who was originally arrested in 2010, secretly pleaded guilty in May 2011 as part of a cooperation agreement.

Paunescu was arrested in Romania in December 2012. The United States has been seeking his extradition.

The case is U.S. v. Calovskis, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-cr-00487.