Gonzalez gets 20 years for TJX credit card scam

Prosecutors called theft 'unparalleled'

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At issue Thursday was the thorny subject of determining how many victims there were of Gonzalez's computer thievery. The judge interrupted arguments by the attorneys to ask if there is any way to know financial figures or anything about "individuals" who were harmed.

While the companies and financial institutions that were affected are known, putting actual human faces and dollar amounts on the crimes is not something that may ever be possible, it was agreed.

Indeed, the issue of restitution was set aside for a separate hearing on June 25, to give the DOJ and others involved in the case time to come up with a total figure.

Judge Saris said that she is likely to have to determine an amount of restitution and then leave the rest of the damages companies hope to recover to lawsuits.

Heartland has already agreed to multimillion-dollar settlements with Visa and American Express for damages in the hacking thefts.

Gonzalez forfeited more than $1 million that can be used as restitution, however, "you're never possibly going to be paying all that I'm ordering," said Saris, who levied a $25,000 fine Thursday and deferred remaining issues of restitution until the June hearing.

But the fact that he turned over the stashed money and that he seems remorseful were among the reasons she imposed sentences in the middle of the range, she said, adding that there were other factors she took into account that she could not disclose in the public sentencing hearing because that information is under court seal.

Judge Saris would like to see Gonzalez someday be released from prison and find work so that he can pay back some of what he stole from victims, she said. Along those lines, after he is released, he will be supervised by the court for three years, during which time he will not be allowed to use the Internet.

His use of electronics will be monitored and he will have to undergo drug and alcohol testing. While the DOJ had suggested a prohibition on the use of all electronics, Judge Saris was skeptical of how that could be applied, particularly almost two decades from now. (Gonzalez will get credit for time served.)

"By the time he gets out in 20 years, there may not be landlines," she said, recommending that mobile phones be excluded from the prohibition.

On the other hand, she also has seen hackers she's sentenced show back up in court after they've been released. "I do think there is a chance of recidivism here," she said, noting that such criminals often find the lure irresistible.

In fact, when he addressed the court, Gonzalez said that he was not motivated by greed or other foul intent, but by simple "curiosity" and "my addiction."

Federal prosecutors, however, painted a much different portrait of him. "Albert Gonzalez was motivated by ego, challenge and greed and was proud of the national attention his computer intrusions and data thefts drew," the DOJ said in its sentencing filing.

"They drew that attention because they victimized more people than anyone had ever done before in this country, caused hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, and shook the public's trust in the security of credit and debit card transactions at some of the country's largest institutions.

"Gonzalez already has been given a second chance. He used that second chance not to straighten out his life, but to provide cover as [he has] committed ever more brash and destructive crimes."

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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