A Bahamian man charged with hacking into celebrities' email accounts to steal unreleased movie and TV scripts and private sex videos will be held without bail because he's a flight risk, a judge said Friday in New York.
The risk that Alonzo Knowles will flee was "overwhelmingly established" during a bail hearing after he pleaded not guilty to charges he violated copyright infringement and identity theft laws, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer said.
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Knowles, a resident of Freeport, Bahamas, was arrested last month after meeting with an undercover federal agent in what prosecutors said was an effort to sell 15 movie and television scripts for $80,000.
Facing years in prison
Defense lawyer Clay Kaminsky said his 23-year-old client is entitled to bail in part because he would face less than three years in prison if convicted. Prosecutors said it was more likely he would face five years or more.
"The celebrity dimension is what makes some of this material more sellable." -U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer
Outside court, Kaminsky declined to comment after Knowles was led away in handcuffs by U.S. marshals.
As he announced there would be no bail, the judge said: "It appears this is quite a strong case." He noted that Knowles has no immediately family in the United States or close ties and could enter the Bahamas "if he was motivated to do so."
Authorities say they began investigating Knowles last month after a radio host received an unsolicited offer from someone selling scripts for the next season of a well-known TV drama. The radio host contacted the show's executive producer, who called Department of Homeland Security investigators.
Hacking through viruses
Knowles, who called himself Jeff Moxey and claimed to have "exclusive content" worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, told investigators he'd gotten into celebrities' accounts by sending computer viruses or false warnings that accounts had been hacked and then using the information he got back to change the accounts' settings so he could maintain ongoing access, the court papers said.
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The judge called it an "unusual case" and described allegations that Knowles had planned to sell private information, including "sexual material and the like."
"The celebrity dimension is what makes some of this material more sellable," the judge noted as he rejected a defense lawyer's effort to downplay the charges. "If your theory is that what he was doing can be minimized, I'm not buying it."