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Mitnick's hacker accomplice pleads guilty

Lewis DePayne, the accomplice to notorious hacker Kevin Mitnick, pleads guilty to one count of wire fraud for his role in a series of computer break-ins.

Lewis DePayne, the accomplice to notorious hacker Kevin Mitnick, today pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud for his role in a series of computer break-ins that took place over a three-year period, the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles said.

DePayne, 39, admitted that he took part in a plan to obtain sensitive software from cellular telephone maker Nokia by posing as a company employee. The count was 1 of 14 brought against him in a 1996 criminal complaint. DePayne entered his plea in federal court in Los Angeles before Judge Mariana Pfaelzer. Last month Mitnick pleaded guilty to 5 of 25 counts in the same court.

DePayne's attorney was not immediately available for comment.

DePayne is scheduled to be sentenced July 12. Under a plea agreement, U.S. attorneys will recommend that DePayne receive six months' detention, five years of probation, and up to $3,000 in fines, said assistant U.S. attorney Chris Painter. He also will have to tell investigators and the companies he is accused of defrauding exactly how he and Mitnick were able to penetrate security systems. DePayne, who lives in Northern California, has been free on bail, Painter said.

DePayne and Mitnick are known for their ability to hack computer systems and to "social engineer" employees responsible for security at high-tech companies. When Mitnick was trying use cell phones to break in to computer systems, he called Nokia posing as an employee and asked that software be sent to him. When that didn't work, DePayne posed as the fictitious employee's supervisor. Suspecting the requests were a hoax, Nokia recorded the call and provided investigators with tapes.

Mitnick's exploits made national headlines after his capture was reported in The New York Times and later in the book Takedown. Mitnick, 35, is accused of breaking in to numerous computer networks, accessing thousands of credit card numbers, and stealing software between 1992 and 1995.

U.S. attorneys fighting high-tech crime appear to be on a roll. Two weeks ago, investigators tracked down the man they say posted a bogus Bloomberg story that caused a publicly traded company's stock to surge more than 30 points. Last week they identified the suspect in a case in which anonymous email that threatened the lives of court officials was posted on the Internet.

"Our offices and other offices around the country will be investigating when people cause damage to companies, infrastructure, and proprietary data," said Painter. "These companies ought to have protection."