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Kevin Mitnick Case: 1999

Hacker Pleads Guilty

A month before Mitnick's trial was finally scheduled to begin on April 20, 1999, he agreed to plead guilty to 5 of the 25 felony counts against him. While Mitnick awaited sentencing, DePayne also agreed to a plea bargain. On April 26, he pleaded guilty to I count of wire fraud and agreed to cooperate with computer security investigators working on the case. He was sentenced to six months of detention at his home.

Although Mitnick's plea was sure to reduce the prison time he risked serving had he been convicted in a federal trial, he still faced a state charge of illegally accessing California Department of Motor Vehicles computers in 1992 to obtain confidential information. On August 6, however, the Los Angeles district attorney's office reversed their long-standing intention to prosecute and dropped the case, saying that Mitnick had been "mischarged." Mitnick had obtained the information over the telephone by simply misidentifying himself as a welfare fraud inspector. Since he had not used a computer, the case against him was unprosecutable and was dismissed upon the request of the D.A.'s office.

His guilty plea in the federal case was ultimately unaffected by the disposition of the unrelated state charge. On August 10, 1999, Judge Pfaelzer sentenced Mitnick to three years and 10 months in prison, granting him credit for time served, to be followed by three years of probation. Prosecutors wanted Mitnick to pay $1.5 million in damages to the companies in whose computer systems he had created so much havoc. The judge instead ordered Mitnick to pay a "token restitution" of $4,125.

Most significant, the terms of Mitnick's three-year probation prohibited him from having any contact with Internet access, computers, software, or cellular telephones. He was also prohibited from working as a computer consultant. Mitnick and his lawyers protested that this would deny him the ability to earn a living, not only in the field that he knew best, but also in a world where computers were increasingly used everywhere, even in the lowliest retail jobs. The judge was unmoved. Mitnick returned to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.

After being paroled and released on January 21, 2000, Mitnick continued to insist that his hacking activities stemmed from intellectual curiosity about telephone systems and computer security, rather than any fraudulent intentions. And even on parole, his expertise was sufficient for him to be called upon by the media and even the government for his opinions on crimes by less-benign hackers.

Tom Smith

Suggestions for Further Reading

Littman, Jonathan. The Fugitive Game. New York: Little Brown, 1996.

Markoff, John. "Cyberspace's Most Wanted: Hacker Eludes F.B.I. Pursuit." New York Times (July 4, 1994): Al.

Miller, Greg. "Hacking Legend's Sign-Off." Los Angeles Times (March 18, 1999): Al.

Penenberg, Adam L. "The Troubled Path of Kevin Mitnick." Forbes (April 19, 1999): 50-1.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentKevin Mitnick Case: 1999 - No Bail, No Computer, Hacker Pleads Guilty