Florida man pleads not guilty in celebrity hacking
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Florida man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to hacking into the email accounts of celebrities such as Christina Aguilera, Mila Kunis and Scarlett Johansson, whose nude photos eventually landed on the Internet.
Christopher Chaney, 35, of Jacksonville, Fla., made his first court appearance in California, where he’s been indicted on 26 counts, including unauthorized access to a computer and wiretapping. If convicted, he faces up to 121 years in prison.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Walsh denied federal prosecutors’ request to remand Chaney to custody but modified his bond to $110,000, and he will wear an electronic monitoring device upon his return to Florida.
A trial has been scheduled for Dec. 27.
Chaney was arrested as part of a yearlong investigation of celebrity hacking that authorities dubbed “Operation Hackerazzi.”
There were more than 50 victims in the case. Some nude photos taken by Johansson herself were posted on the Internet. Chaney offered some material to celebrity blog sites but there wasn’t any evidence that he profited from his scheme, authorities said.
Chaney is accused of mining through publicly available data to figure out password and security questions for celebrity accounts. He hijacked a forwarding feature so that a copy of every email a celebrity received was sent to an account he controlled, according to court documents.
A search warrant unsealed and obtained by The Associated Press said Chaney’s computer hard drive contained numerous private celebrity photos as well as a document that compiled their extensive personal data.
Chaney said he managed to hack into Johansson’s email account to send one of her acquaintances an email containing a nude photo of her in exchange for a photo, authorities said.
Johansson told Vanity Fair for its December issue that the photos were meant for Ryan Reynolds, who is now her ex-husband.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not like I was shooting a porno,” the actress told the magazine.
The pair had their divorce finalized by a judge in July.
Chaney has apologized for his actions. His attorney, Christopher Chestnut, told AP that his client doesn’t want the case to drag on, but the resolution has to be within reason.
“I think he has a crystal clear view of what is at stake,” Chestnut said during Tuesday’s hearing.
The warrant also said Chaney may have stalked a Connecticut woman online for the past 12 years. The document contends there is probable cause that Chaney violated federal charges of stalking and unauthorized access to a computer.
Federal prosecutors also said a second woman has stepped forward and made similar accusations that Chaney stalked her online. They declined to comment further.
Chestnut said the new allegations amount to nothing more than a publicity stunt designed to damage his client’s reputation.
“The amount of time, money and energy the authorities have spent pursuing a man who didn’t sell anything or profit in any way from this alleged activity is truly remarkable, given everything we are going through in this country,” Chestnut said.
No other charges have been filed against Chaney.