A Bahamas resident pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that he hacked the online accounts of celebrities and entertainment executives — obtaining personal information, more than a dozen movie and television scripts, and sexually explicit material.
After allegedly stealing the content — which the government says includes social security numbers, bank account numbers, one actor’s passport, and at least one sexually explicit video — 23-year-old Alonzo Knowles is alleged to have attempted to sell the material to a buyer in Manhattan who turned out to be an undercover officer, according to prosecutors.
Knowles, who appeared in federal court in Manhattan on Friday, allegedly told the undercover officer that the materials was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. At one point during the investigation, the government said it negotiated a fake deal with Knowles to pay him $75,000 for 19 scripts, according to prosecutors.
Federal law enforcement was tipped off to Knowles’ alleged actions after he contacted a radio show host, under the alias ‘Jeff Moxie,’ and said he had material he believed was worth millions of dollars. The host then contacted an executive at one of the networks connected to stolen script and the police.
On Friday, the government noted that at least one of the unreleased scripts, only presently known as “Television Series-1” from the indictment, is a “top show for that network.”
Saying they anticipated seeking a sentence of at least five years for the charges, the government said it believed the potentially “great economic impact” of the unreleased TV and movie script material getting out would drive up the sentencing guidelines if Knowles is found guilty.
Knowles’ attorney said he believed it was more likely that his client was facing around three years for the charges.
Knowles was arrested on December 21 and taken into custody. He was denied bail on Friday during a pre-trial hearing where the judge said the government had “overwhelmingly established” that Knowles was a flight risk. The judge also said there would be no way to monitor if Knowles had access to a computer or mobile device while out on bail.
Knowles’ defense attorney argued that his client should be allowed to stay in Florida with distant relatives while he awaits trial, but the judge denied that motion asserting that if Knowles wanted to flee to the Bahamas from Florida all he would have to do is “hop a ferry.”
The next hearing in Knowles is case is scheduled for March 2016, at which point a trial date will likely be set for later this year.
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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