Notorious computer hacker Kevin Mitnick and his alleged accomplice, Lewis Depayne, pleaded not guilty today to federal charges related to a 2-1/2 year criminal hacking spree.
The two men entered their pleas at a hearing in federal court in Los Angeles. The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Mariana Phaelzer, and Mitnick will be represented by court-appointed attorney Donald Randolf.
Mitnick faces 25 counts on charges stemming from a series of computer break-ins that took place between June 1992 and February 1995. Mitnick is accused of attacking systems belonging to software makers, ISPs, and educational institutions, including Netcom, Colorado Supernet, Motorola, Nokia, Fujitsu, Novell, NEC, Sun Microsystems, and the University of Southern California.
Under the statute, Mitnick theoretically would face more than 100 years in prison if convicted. But calculating the term with any certainty is difficult, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Schindler said. His only comment: "It's many, many years."
The indictment alleges that the 33-year-old Mitnick, who was known online as "Condor," and Lewis Depayne, 36, formerly of Los Angeles, carried out the scheme by impersonating company employees and using hacking techniques to obtain access to company computers. Once inside the computers, the indictment charges, Mitnick copied and "stole millions of dollars worth of proprietary software."
Mitnick has become a legend in the computer world and beyond, having been the subject of several books and news reports. His escapades began as a teenager when he allegedly tapped into a computer system in his high school, according to biographical accounts. Over the years, his hacking reportedly grew into an obsession.
In an indictment handed up Friday, Mitnick was charged with 14 counts of wire fraud, arising from his alleged theft of proprietary software from manufacturers. The charges also accuse him of damaging USC's computers and "stealing and compiling" numerous electronic files containing passwords.
The government says that, as part of the elaborate scheme, Mitnick and DePayne used "clone" cellular phones to make their calls and computer connections untraceable, disabled computer audit programs and logs, and used numerous aliases.
"This indictment reveals the vast scope of Mitnick's alleged computer hacking while he was a fugitive from justice," U.S. Attorney Nora Manella said. "This indictment is a major step forward in the federal effort to track down and prosecute computer hackers."
Mitnick was arrested in North Carolina in February 1995 and charged with lesser crimes.
His case indictment stems from an ongoing investigation involving the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, NASA, the computer crime unit of the Justice Department, and federal prosecutors' offices across the country.
Richard Sherman, the attorney representing DePayne, said Friday that his client will plead not guilty to charges that he helped Mitnick.
"The government has a reason, which will come out during the course of the trial, for involving Mr. DePayne in this process, and it has nothing to do with the merits of this process because there are none. I believe this is an unmeritorious prosecution."
Sherman, who had represented Mitnick before he was retained by DePayne, added that government agencies "have got to do something to justify the millions of dollars wasted in the investigation of this subject. They ought to go out and pursue serious criminals."