U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema sentenced Sankus, 28, to 46 months in prison for his participation in the DrinkOrDie group, a loose band of about 60 people who cracked and distributed pirated software and movies via secret Web sites and invite-only IRC (Internet relay chat) channels.
Prosecutors said Sankus, whose screen name was hellfire spelled backwards, oversaw daily operations of DrinkOrDie. In February, Sankus admitted to a charge of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, a count that could have carried up to five years in prison.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said he hoped the long jail terms would deter other software pirates.
"John Sankus and his techno gang operated in the faceless world of the Internet and thought they would never be caught," McNulty said in a statement. "They were wrong. These sentences, and those to follow, should send a message to others entertaining similar beliefs of invincibility."
Symantec employee Barry Erickson was the first of the group to be sentenced, receiving 33 months in prison.
Sankus, Erickson and others were nabbed in athat began last December. Prosecutors said nine people related to DrinkOrDie have pled guilty so far and five more are expected to in the coming weeks.