NY Youths in Plea Deal in MySpace Case
Extortion, illegal computer access among charges against quartet who claimed to have MySpace-monitoring software that could be used for nefarious purposes.
(Los Angeles) Two young New York men accused of trying to extort $150,000
from MySpace.com by developing code that tracked visitors pleaded no contest
Monday to illegal computer access in a bargain with the prosecution.
Two counts of attempted extortion and another illegal computer access
count were dropped in the deal, which gave the defendants three years
probation. Each had faced up to nearly four years in prison.
Shaun Harrison, 19, and Saverio Mondelli, 20, of Suffolk County, N.Y.,
were accused of demanding the money as a "consulting fee" from
the News Corp. subsidiary. The pair were offering the code on their own
Web site for $29.95 and claimed to be developing an unbreakable version.
MySpace had blocked the existing version after it was discovered.
The popular MySpace social-networking site _ where people create elaborate
profiles and personalize them with photos, music and video _ is supposed
to offer anonymity to visitors who browse the pages.
But Harrison and Mondelli's program collected e-mail addresses and Internet
Protocol addresses, prosecutors said. Such information could have been
used by stalkers trying to locate MySpace users, said Deputy District
Attorney Jeffrey A. McGrath.
The men sold access to several versions of the code to computer users,
who could then apply it to their own MySpace profiles. That type of traffic
monitoring violates MySpace's rules.
The men boasted they had around 85,000 registered users of their tracking
program, but investigators have not determined how much information users
were able to cull, McGrath said.
The plea bargain, also agreed to by Paul L. Gabbert, attorney for the
young men, severely restricts their access to computers, limits them to
one e-mail address each, and requires they do 160 hours of community service
and pay MySpace $13,500 in restitution.
Superior Court Commissioner Kristi Lousteau told the defendants that
if they violate their agreement they could go to prison. She said they
will be subject to search of their computers at any time and they may
not access MySpace.com directly or indirectly.
The defendants stood before the commissioner and acknowledged the terms
of the agreement, but neither spoke other than to answer "yes."
Outside court, Gabbert said that the agreement came from "the recognition
that they are young and made a mistake and to give them a second chance."
He said they set up their business right out of high school, are going
to college and "they will continue to be creative and not transgress
McGrath said the young men, who were extremely proficient in the Web
multimedia program Flash, were discovered by the operators of MySpace
and were sent a "cease and desist" order by e-mail.
The pair sent a reply saying, "We will neither cease nor desist"
and announced on their Web site that they were developing an even more
sophisticated system that would soon be for sale, prosecutors said.
The problem for MySpace was that the pair's identities were not known
because they were operating under pseudonyms.
The prosecution said the company then began "quasi negotiations"
with the two. They were arrested last May when they flew to Los Angeles
to collect the $150,000 but actually met with undercover Secret Service
and district attorney's investigators, prosecutors said.
A telephone request for comment from MySpace was not immediately returned.
McGrath said there are other companies offering similar services on the
Internet and that MySpace is constantly trying to shut them down.