Albert Gonzalez, dropout and one-time federal informant, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in one of the largest credit card theft operations in U.S. history. Gonzalez plead guilty last year to breaking into computer networks of major retailers, including Barnes & Noble, OfficeMax, TJX Cos., BJ’s Wholesale, Target, and the restaurant chain Dave & Buster’s in a scheme alleged to have cost bands, insurers, and consumers around $200 million. The 20-year sentence is actually two concurrent 20-year sentences, one for a Massachusetts case and another from New York.
Before being sentenced, Gonzalez apologized for his role in the scheme, claiming he hurt nobody but himself and saying he was unable to stop his actions once he got going.
Gonzalez taught himself about computers and transaction security, and was first arrested for breaking into systems in 2003 but was not charged after he agreed to become an informant for the Secret Service and other agencies. Nonetheless, over the next several years Gonzalez continued to break into computer systems of major businesses and Fortune 500 companies—often via unsecured wireless networks—even while offering information to the federal government. And Gonzalez lived large on his activities: he pulled together almost $3 million for himself, which he used to fund a lavish Miami condominium, a BMW, and high-end jewelry.
During the sentencing, Gonzalez’s attorney presented a report from a defense psychiatrist that claimed Gonzalez showed behaviors consistent Internet addiction and Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism).
Gonzalez isn’t done yet: today, he’s scheduled to be sentenced by a different judge in New Jersey for theft of credit card numbers from Maine-based Hannaford Bros. supermarkets, as well as 7-Eleven and Heartland.