Autistic hacker Albert Gonzalez, 28, used his stolen millions to finance a decadent lifestyle, even as he was serving as a U.S. Secret Service informant. Now he's received the longest cybercrime sentence in U.S. history -- 20 years in prison.  (Source: AP)
Crime doesn't pay in the end

Albert Gonzalez aka "soupnazi" was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Patti Saris to 20 years in prison for his role as a ringleader of an international group of hackers.  The sentence is the longest cybercrime sentence in U.S. history.

Gonzalez and his colleagues infiltrated corporate networks to obtain 40 million payment card numbers.  The group's targets include TJX Cos Inc, BJ's Wholesale Club Inc, and Barnes & Noble.  They used these cards to score millions in cash.  It is estimated that they caused $200M USD in financial damages worldwide.

Now 28 years old, Gonzalez was troubled since childhood.  He suffered from Asperger's disorder, a form of autism.  He abused drugs and alcohol during his time growing up in the Miami area.  He started college after graduating from high school, but end up dropping out.

All this time he was feeding his biggest addiction -- computer crime.  Describes Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann, "They would quite literally go to ATMS and take out bundles of money from victims' accounts."

Gonzalez's world began to unravel in 1998 when he was caught for the first time.  In a secret plea deal he began to work as a U.S. Secret Service informant, betraying his hacking colleagues.  However, he continued to use SQL hacking techniques to steal payment card numbers during this time and was eventually caught again in 2008.

The hacker made little attempt at concealing his ill-gotten profits, other than to bury $1M USD of them in the yard of his parent'as house.  Gonzalez purchased expensive jewelery, watches, a luxury car, and even a Tiffany ring for his girlfriend.

At the time of his apprehension, Gonzalez was reportedly living large, renting a suite at the National Hotel in South Beach, Florida.  The is known for its luxurious accommodations and its oceanfront location in the heart of the Art Deco district.  He blew $75,000 USD on a birthday party and bought real estate.  He even had the nerve to complain about having to count $343,000 USD of his stolen money by hand, after his money counter broke.

Judge Saris could have sentenced Gonzalez to up to 25 years, but was lenient due to his addictions.  Gonzalez appeared contrite in court, commenting, "I stand before you humbled by the past 22 months sober."

He says he committed the crimes "because of my inability to stop my pursuit of curiosity and addiction."

U.S. Attorney Heymann thinks he should have been handed a stiffer sentence.  He comments, "He shook a portion of our financial system.  What matters most is that teenagers and young adults not look up to Albert Gonzalez. They need to know that they will be caught. That they will be punished and that the punishment will be severe."

The prison sentence will likely grow, though, when a judge sentences him on a second set of charges for stealing 10 million+ more payment card numbers from payment card processor Heartland Payment Systems, 7-Eleven Inc, the Hannaford chain of New England grocery stores, and others.

Due to the way criminal justice works in the U.S.,  Gonzalez could be eligible for parole before his entire sentence is served, if he behaves himself in prison.

Many of his cohorts are already serving prison sentences.  Some blame Gonzalez for coercing them into the criminal scheme.

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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