A Bahamian man pleaded guilty Monday to hacking into celebrities' email accounts to steal unreleased movie and TV scripts, a crime that prosecutors say could have caused great harm to networks and movie studios if he had succeeded in selling them for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Alonzo Knowles, 24, of Freeport, entered the plea in federal court to criminal copyright infringement and identity theft charges, bringing a speedy conclusion to a case that resulted in his December arrest in Manhattan.
Prosecutors say he was peddling personal information from at least 130 celebrities in the entertainment, sports and media industries and claimed he also could sell private sexually explicit photographs and videos.
Knowles flew from the Bahamas to New York City to sell 15 scripts and personal information on several celebrities for $80,000 to a law enforcement agent posing as an interested buyer. Prosecutors said he showed the agent sexually explicit materials of one celebrity as he revealed samples of materials he hoped to sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The government said the investigation began after Knowles contacted a radio show host offering to sell scripts to a popular television show. The host contacted the show and the network, and those entities contacted law enforcement.
A plea agreement recommended Judge Paul A. Engelmayer send Knowles to prison for between 27 months and 33 months at a sentencing scheduled for Aug. 25.
As part of the plea, Knowles also agreed to forfeit 25 unpublished TV and movie scripts, along with unpublished music. He has remained incarcerated since his arrest. The celebrities and the TV shows haven't been identified.
Outside court, a defense lawyer declined comment.
At an earlier hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristy Greenberg said prosecutors had reached out to television and movie studios and learned that the scripts had great value, particularly scripts of one network's top show.
She said that after substantial production costs, networks would have been left deciding whether to scrap programs and start fresh or whether "to continue knowing that the viewership would be down because the secrets are out."
At the same hearing, Engelmayer indicated he took the crime seriously, saying it was alleged Knowles proposed to sell "life-changing, private information" belonging to a large number of people.
Prosecutors say Knowles stole the information by infecting the computers of victims with a virus or by falsely notifying them through social networks that their computers had been hacked and telling them they need to provide their login credentials to undo the harm.