NEW YORK (AP) — A Bahamian man hacked into celebrities’ email accounts to steal unreleased movie and TV scripts and sex tapes and peddled some of the scripts, boasting to an undercover agent that he had dossiers on at least 130 stars and bigshots in entertainment, sports and media, federal prosecutors in New York said.
Alonzo Knowles was being held without bail after a court appearance Tuesday on criminal copyright infringement and identity theft charges as court documents described a scheme that also involved proffering unreleased music, an actor’s passport and Social Security number and an explicit video of a radio host, though authorities didn’t identify any victims.
“This case has all of the elements of the kind of blockbuster script the defendant, Alonzo Knowles, is alleged to have stolen,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “Unfortunately, these circumstances are all too real.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Knowles had a lawyer who could comment on his behalf.
The case comes at a time when security is a sensitive subject in Hollywood. Hackers calling themselves Guardians of Peace broke into Sony Pictures Entertainment computers last year and released thousands of emails, documents, Social Security numbers and other personal information in an attempt to derail the release of the North Korean-focused comedy “The Interview.” The U.S. government blamed North Korea for the attack.
Subsequently, former Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal left her position after the hack revealed embarrassing emails that included racially insensitive remarks about President Barack Obama’s purported taste in movies, and Sony Pictures agreed to pay current and former employees up to $8 million to reimburse them for identity-theft losses and other costs.
The investigation into the 23-year-old Knowles began only this month, after a radio host received an unsolicited offer from someone selling scripts for the next season of a popular TV drama, according to court papers. The radio host contacted the show’s executive producer, who called Department of Homeland Security investigators.
They followed that offer to Knowles, of Freeport, Bahamas, who called himself “Jeff Moxey” and claimed to have “exclusive content” worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Homeland Security Special Agent Michael McDonald said in a complaint.
Within days, Knowles — via video call — was showing an undercover agent scripts for an unreleased comedy movie, a new TV show, and other materials, some marked as having been distributed to actors, the complaint said. At a meeting in New York on Monday, he offered to sell the undercover agent about 15 TV and movie scripts for $80,000, the complaint said.
Knowles said he’d gotten into celebrities’ accounts by sending either a computer virus or a false warning that the person’s account had been hacked, and then using the information he got back to change the accounts’ email settings so he could maintain ongoing access, according to the complaint.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.