Hacker Gonzalez pleads guilty in Heartland breach

Reuters reports that Target was also among the many victims of the data breaches led by Albert Gonzalez that led to massive identity fraud.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
2 min read

Albert Gonzalez
Albert Gonzalez Wired.com

A Miami hacker who had already pleaded guilty to computer fraud and identity theft for breaches at retailers T.J.Maxx, OfficeMax, and many other merchants, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to similar charges related to breaches at Heartland Payment Systems, 7-11, Hannaford Brothers supermarkets, and two other companies.

Albert Gonzalez, 28, reiterated terms of a plea agreement in U.S. District Court in Boston. A week earlier, co-conspirator Stephen Watt of New York, appeared in that same court and was ordered to serve two years in prison and pay $171.5 million in restitution for developing a sniffing program used to grab payment card data in the breach at the TJX companies between 2003 and 2008.

In that case, Gonzalez agreed in September to forfeit more than $2.7 million in restitution, as well as a condo, jewelry, and a car as part of his plea agreement. In addition to the TJX Companies (owner of T.J.Maxx), Gonzalez's ring is accused of breaches at BJ's Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority and others.

Separately, he also has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud related to hacks into the network of the Dave & Buster's restaurant chain.

Gonzalez was the ringleader in what authorities have said constituted the largest identity fraud scam in U.S. history.

He and two Russian men were indicted in the Heartland case in August, accused of stealing data related to more than 130 million credit and debit cards. Retailer Target told Reuters that it was one of the victims of Gonzalez. "We believe that, at most, only a tiny fraction of guest credit and debit card data used at our stores may have been involved," Target spokeswoman Amy Reilly said.

Gonzalez, a former federal government informant, faces several sentences of up to 20 or 25 years in prison. Sentencing is set for March.

His attorneys, in seeking the minimum sentence, have suggested that Gonzalez may have Asperger's Disorder. He admitted in court that he had abused alcohol and drugs for years, according to Reuters.