By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times
NEW YORK — A judge Tuesday granted freedom to a computer hacker who helped Anonymous and other groups attack credit card companies, governments from Algeria to Zimbabwe, and media outlets but who turned government informant after his arrest.
Hector Xavier Monsegur, 30, who became known among online followers as “Sabu,” could have received more than 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in August 2011 to 12 counts related to hacking, fraud and identity theft.
But prosecutors, who said Monsegur immediately began cooperating with federal agents after his arrest in the spring of 2011, requested that he be sentenced to time he has served since then — seven months in prison.
“Monsegur was an extremely valuable and productive cooperator,” the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, and Assistant U.S. Attorney James J. Pastore Jr. said in a sentencing recommendation submitted last week to U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska.
In sentencing Monsegur to time served, Preska called his cooperation “truly extraordinary.” Preska also ordered Monsegur to pay $1,200.
Monsegur’s cooperation was so extensive that the FBI relocated him and some of his relatives who were threatened as a result of his work with the government.
Monsegur appeared in court for his sentencing and smiled as he walked out of the courthouse a free man.
Prosecutors say Monsegur acknowledged his own criminal conduct when he was arrested and provided information that has led to the arrests of at least eight major co-conspirators. They included Jeremy Hammond, who was the FBI’s No. 1 cybercriminal target when he was arrested in 2012.
Hammond now is serving a 10-year sentence for his conviction on hacking-related activities.
Prosecutors said Monsegur also helped the FBI thwart or mitigate at least 300 planned cyberattacks.
In an indictment after his arrest, Monsegur was described as an “influential member” of Anonymous and two other hacking organizations: Internet Feds and Lulz Security, or LulzSec. Prosecutors said Monsegur was a “rooter” whose skills included spotting vulnerabilities in potential targets and sharing the information with other hackers or using the information for his own operations.
His alleged hacking began in December 2010 with his participation in an operation carried out by Anonymous that attacked the websites of Visa, Mastercard and PayPal. In early 2011, prosecutors said Monsegur helped stage attacks on government websites of Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
The indictment said that during the same time period Monsegur infiltrated the computer systems of media organizations, including the Tribune Co., the parent company of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. Also targeted was Fox Broadcasting Corp. Prosecutors said Monsegur and co-conspirators accessed Fox computer servers and stole information related to the network’s show “X-Factor.”
Prosecutors say PBS was attacked in May 2011 in retaliation for what Monsegur and co-conspirators considered unfair coverage of WikiLeaks on the PBS news series “Frontline.” Among other things, the hackers posted a fake story on the “PBS NewsHour” website saying that rapper Tupac Shakur was alive and well in New Zealand.
Officials said that although his most famous attacks were aimed at large corporations, Monsegur also targeted individuals, stealing credit card information to pay his bills and selling that information to others to do the same.