Private Investigator Snooped On E-Mail Of Scientology Critics

Posted: June 26, 2015 in Tech
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Eric Saldarriaga, a private investigator from Astoria, New York, was received a sentence of three months imprisonment, three years of supervised probation, and a $1,000 fine in federal court for his part in a conspiracy to hack into the e-mail accounts of more than 50 individuals as part of his investigations. Among his victims are two prominent critics of the Church of Scientology, both of whom were recently featured in the book and HBO documentary film Going Clear. Update: Saldarriaga .

Who were Saldarriaga’s clients? That remains unclear; court documents haven’t revealed it, and the transcripts of his guilty plea are still held by the court awaiting redaction. But both Scientology critics are now convinced that it was the church which set Saldarriaga on them. “There can be no doubt that one of Mr. Saldarriaga’s clients is Scientology,” Mike Rinder, a former Scientology official and one of the victims notified by the US Attorney’s Office, said in a written statement sent to the court.

Here’s how the hacks happened. According to a sentencing letter filed by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, “Between at least 2009 and March 2014, through certain services advertised on the Internet (the ‘Hacking Services’), the defendant hired other individuals to hack into, i.e., to gain unlawful and secret electronic access to, the e-mail accounts of almost 50 different individuals (collectively, the ‘Victims’). For certain victims, the defendant attempted to gain unlawful access to more than one e-mail account. In total, the defendant hired the Hacking Services to attempt to hack into, and provide the defendant with unauthorized access to, at least 60 different e-mail accounts.”

The government has not named the individuals hired by Saldarriaga to perform the mail hacking, but it describes them as “known and unknown”—so cases against them are likely pending. Saldarriaga, who also used the alias “Emmanuela Gelpi” in Internet communications, would contact the “Hacking Services” by e-mail to request the username and password for specific targets’ accounts; when successful, the hackers would e-mail back a screenshot of the targets’ e-mail inbox and demand payment, usually via PayPal. They would then pass along the login credentials for the e-mail account, and Saldarriaga would log in—sometimes to gather information for clients, and sometimes “to investigate individuals in which the defendant was interested for personal reasons,” Assistant US Attorney Daniel Noble wrote in his sentencing memorandum to the court.

Full Story @ [arstechnica]


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