Chicago man pleads guilty to role in celebrity hacking scandal

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SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE - A Chicago man on Tuesday pleaded guilty to his role in a celebrity hacking scandal.

Edward Majerczyk, 29, admitted hacking the emails of at least 30 celebrities.

His activities were discovered as the FBI investigated a massive leak of nude celebrity photographs.

Majerczyk pleaded guilty to accessing a protected computer without authorization, a charge that carries a maximum of five years in prison. Federal prosecutors have promised to seek only a nine-month prison sentence.

“Did you concentrate on celebrities?” U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras asked Majerczyk.

“Yes, your honor,” Majerczyk replied.

However, authorities also have said there is no evidence Majerczyk actually leaked the photographs tied to Hollywood’s infamous “Celebgate” scandal, in which nude and sexually explicit photos of dozens of A-list celebrities were leaked online in September 2014.

The Chicago Sun-Times first reported last year that the FBI’s Celebgate investigation had led to two homes on Chicago’s South Side, including Majerczyk’s apartment on Narragansett near Midway Airport. When a Sun-Times reporter visited Majerczyk’s apartment in May 2015, a man and woman who answered the door declined to talk about the case.

The feds raided Majerczyk’s apartment in October 2014 and they walked out with several computers, a cellphone, hard drives and thumb drives, court records show. Majerczyk hacked into the Apple iCloud accounts of at least 30 celebrities, according to his plea agreement.

In all, Majerczyk allegedly accessed the iCloud and Gmail accounts of more than 300 people.

Majerczyk allegedly used a “phishing” scheme, sending emails to his victims that appeared to be from their internet service providers’ security accounts. The emails would then direct the victims to a website that would collect their usernames and passwords.

The scheme gave Majerczyk access to “sensitive and private photographs and videos,” but authorities said they found no evidence he leaked the photos online.

The FBI also raided a home on South Washtenaw in Brighton Park, records show, but no criminal charges appear to have been filed as a result.

The search warrant applications filed in Chicago describe interviews with some of the victimized celebrities but refer to them only by their initials. An agent described one interview with “J.L.” that he had to stop because she became “very distraught.”

“J.L. stated she was having an anxiety attack and was visibly shaken,” the agent wrote.

Actress Jennifer Lawrence is among the Celebgate victims, and in an interview with Vanity Fair she called the leak a “sex crime.”

Other victims included Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kate Upton and boyfriend Justin Verlander. Winstead took to Twitter after the hack and wrote, “Knowing those photos were deleted long ago, I can only imagine the creepy effort that went into this. Feeling for everyone who got hacked.”

Some of the celebrities reported they’d been briefly locked out of their online accounts before the leak. Others said they received the “phishing” messages described by federal prosecutors in Majerczyk’s case.

The celebrities generally said the photographs were meant only for their significant others. One, identified as “A.H.,” said she sent some of the 54 private leaked photographs to her fiance.

But she never sent him the others, she said. She said she only stored them on her phone.