A hacker claims that federal authorities indicted him with 44 felonies following his refusal to become an informant for the FBI.
Fidel Salinas, 28, stated in an interview with WIRED that in May 2013, the FBI attempted to enlist his help in gathering information on Mexican drug cartels and local government officials accepting bribes.
“They asked me to gather information on elected officials, cartel members, anyone I could get data from that would help them out,” Salinas told WIRED in a phone interview. “I told them no.”
According to a press release issued by the U.S. State Attorney’s Office Southern District of Texas, Salinas was initially arrested in 2012 for attempting to penetrate the Hidalgo County website and gain unauthorized access. Over the course of his attack, he made 14,000 access requests with incorrect passwords. Salinas was later released in bail.
A year later, the FBI allegedly called him into a local field office, where they said he could retrieve his stolen computers. When he arrived, Salinas claims he was placed in an interrogation room for six hours with FBI agents.
“We think you can help us,” the hacker recalls he was told. “You can help us stop some of this corruption and stop the cartels.”
“I’m not going to snitch,” Salinas says he replied.
In its article, WIRED notes Salinas’ story could not be independently verified. The FBI has also denied ever attempting to enlist his help.
Following his refusal to aid federal authorities, Salinas claims that he was hit with 44 federal indictments in less than a year. 18 of the counts accused the hacker of cyberstalking an unnamed victim, and another 15 stated that Salinas had violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as part of a series of hacks against a particular website.
It was shortly thereafter that Tor Ekeland, a New York City lawyer representing clients at the cutting edge of technology and business law, agreed to take on the hacker’s case pro bono last year.
“The more I looked at this, the more it seemed like an archetypal example of the Department of Justice’s prosecutorial abuse when it comes to computer crime,” Ekeland said in an interview with WIRED. “It shows how aggressive they are and how they seek to destroy your reputation in the press even when the charges are complete, fricking garbage.”
Ekeland challenged the charges leveled against Salinas, revealing that the 18 cyberstalking counts were based on the hacker filling in public contact forms on a victim’s website with junk text. The 15 counts of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, meanwhile, allegedly stemmed from Salinas scanning a website using commercial vulnerability scanning tools such as Acunetix and Webcruiser.
All counts have since been dropped except a single misdemeanor count of computer fraud and abuse, for which Salinas will pay $10,000 in restitution.