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Hacker Indicted On Equipment Theft; Three Plead Guilty To Hacking Lowe's

A 14-count indictment charges that a Romanian hacker and five Americans conspired to steal more than $10 million in equipment from Ingram Micro.

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles on Wednesday indicted a Romanian hacker and five Americans on charges that they conspired to steal more than $10 million in computer equipment from Ingram Micro Corp., the world's largest technology distributor.

The 14-count indictment charges that Calin Mateias, who used the online nickname "Dr. Mengele," hacked into Ingram Micro's ordering system beginning in 1999 and placed fraudulent orders for computer equipment. When Ingram Micro subsequently blocked shipments directed to Romania, he allegedly recruited the co-defendants named in the indictment to provide U.S.-based addresses as mail drops for fraudulently ordered equipment.

"It's a fairly significant case," says assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Hoffstadt, who notes that he's unable to elaborate on the status of Mateias at the moment as that's still being worked out with Romanian authorities. He says the five Americans named in the indictment will be summoned to appear in court in Los Angeles later this month.

If convicted, Mateias faces up to 90 years in prison.

Mateias was named in a separate indictment handed up Wednesday in Pittsburgh on charges of mail fraud and conspiracy.

The same day, federal officials in Charlotte, N.C., said three men from Michigan--Brian Salcedo, Adam Botbyl, And Paul Timmins--had recently pled guilty to hacking the computer system of home-improvement chain Lowe's to steal credit-card information. The three were indicted in November 2003.

According to the Department of Justice, the trio broke into the wireless network at a Southfield, Mich., Lowe's and accessed the retailer's central computer system in North Wilkesboro, N.C. The defendants then installed a computer program on the systems of several Lowe's stores designed to capture customer credit-card information.

Under the plea agreement, Salcedo faces a sentencing recommendation of at least 151 months in prison. Justice Department officials believe that the longest federal sentence for a hacking offense to date is the 68 months imposed on Kevin Mitnick.

With regard to Timmins, who was charged with a single count of unauthorized access to a protected computer, the defendant's guilty plea is thought to be the first conviction for "wardriving," the practice of driving around with a Wi-Fi scanner and looking for vulnerable wireless networks.

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