NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Bahamas man was charged Tuesday with hacking into celebrities’ personal email accounts and stealing everything from scripts for unreleased movies and TV shows to sexually explicit personal photos.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced Tuesday that Alonzo Knowles, 23, was arrested in Manhattan on Monday and charged with one count each of criminal copyright infringement and identity theft.
He allegedly obtained and tried to sell stolen scripts, personal identification information, and private photos of celebrities and other professionals in the entertainment, professional sports and media industries, prosecutors said.
“This case has all of the elements of the kind of blockbuster script the defendant, Alonzo Knowles, is alleged to have stolen: hacks into celebrities’ private emails, identity theft, and attempts to sell victims’ information to the highest bidder,” Bharara said in a news release. “Unfortunately, these circumstances are all too real.”
Prosecutors said earlier this month, representatives of an unnamed premium cable and satellite television network were informed by the executive producer of one of its drama series that someone may have illegally obtained the scripts for its upcoming season.
A popular radio host had contacted the executive producer, and had reported receiving an unsolicited email offer to buy scripts for upcoming episodes of the series, prosecutors said. Prosecutors said the person who sent the email was identified as Knowles.
The radio host introduced Knowles to an undercover law enforcement agent who pretended to be interested in buying the scripts, prosecutors said.
In video conference calls this month, Knowles claimed to the undercover agent that he had “exclusive content” that was “worth hundreds of thousands of dollars” and was “really profitable,” prosecutors said. He claimed he had obtained the material from the victims without their knowledge and could get more, prosecutors said.
Knowles allegedly showed the agent the email addresses and phone numbers for at least 130 celebrities and other entertainment, sports and media professionals, prosecutors said.
He also allegedly offered to sell the agent sexually explicit images and videos of certain celebrities he had stolen, prosecutors said. In one instance, he allegedly gave the agent a video clip he had stolen from the personal email account of another radio host that had been sent to that host by another person, prosecutors said.
Knowles further said he could obtain personal identification information for celebrities and provided the agent with the passport, Social Security number, and other information of a popular film actor, prosecutors said.
Knowles also allegedly offered to sell the agent “a very popular A list celebrity ssn along with 30 unreleased tracks towards their upcoming album,” prosecutors said.
In a meeting with the agent in Manhattan on Monday, Knowles claimed that he used two different methods to hack the celebrities’ email accounts, one involving a “virus” allowing him to access their computers, the other through a phishing scam in which he allegedly emailed a false notification saying the celebrities’ accounts had been hacked and asking for their passcodes.
He then allegedly changed the settings of the victims’ email accounts in order to maintain access, prosecutors said.
During the Monday meeting, Knowles allegedly tried to sell the undercover agent for $80,000 15 movie and television scripts he had stolen through hacking, and also gave the agent the Social Security numbers of three professional athletes and a movie actress, prosecutors said.
At that point, Knowles was arrested, prosecutors said.
Knowles faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on both counts, prosecutors said.