Mafiaboy

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http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20001205/2888098s.htm

By Kevin Johnson USA TODAY

MONTREAL -- Nearly a year after a hacker shut down some of the biggest names on the Internet -- causing an estimated $1.3 billion in lost business -- prosecutors and lawyers representing a defendant known as Mafiaboy are locked in a high-stakes game of chicken over whether the case will go to trial.

The 16-year-old is charged with the cyber equivalent of breaking and entering in assaults last winter that shut down sites operated by Yahoo, eBay, CNN and E-Trade.

The attacks, in which the Web sites were overloaded with requests from supercomputers infected with a program planted by a hacker, affected millions of Internet users worldwide.

If convicted, prosecutors say, Mafiaboy -- whose name is being withheld because he is a juvenile -- could face up to two years confinement in a youth center, $1,000 in fines and up to 240 hours of community service.

Prosecutors are willing to consider a plea agreement, but only if it includes some confinement.

Absolutely not, says the teen's attorney, who vows that if prosecutors stick to that position, they'll be sorry.

Yan Romanowski says his client is bracing for a protracted trial, lasting four to six months, during which the defense will demand that the government show the computer program that brought the Internet giants to their knees.

Internet security experts are calling the strategy blackmail, and prosecutors say they do not believe that publicizing the program, which Mafiaboy allegedly found on the Internet, would be necessary.

Nevertheless, Romanowski, in a likely attempt to gain leverage in plea-bargain talks, is playing hardball. The lawyer plans to challenge the legality of wiretaps that allowed Royal Canadian Mounted Police to collect 40 days of telephone conversations, during which the teenager is alleged to have bragged about his exploits behind the keyboard.

The wiretaps were planted after authorities traced computer fingerprints left on one supercomputer used in the attacks back to Mafiaboy. If that evidence is eliminated, Romanowski says, the whole case gets kicked.

If the evidence stands, as prosecutor Louis Miville-Deschenes expects, the defense envisions a courtroom drama that will require some of the biggest players in electronic commerce to testify as embarrassed victims of a boy's mischief. This is not an open-and-closed case by any means, Romanowski says.

Perhaps, but the lawyer's client might have not have helped matters when he was arrested last Friday and accused of violating the terms of his bail by repeatedly breaking school rules at Riverdale High. He remained in custody Monday night and was scheduled for a detention hearing today.

The kid has been a general pain in the posterior, Miville-Deschenes says.

This Friday, the teenager is expected to answer the hacking charges. Romanowski says he plans to plead not guilty.

As part of any plea negotiation, prosecutors have asked him to participate in debriefing sessions with Canadian authorities and possibly U.S. investigators to discuss his relationships with a vast, international network of associates.

Like detention, that's also unacceptable to the defense, say Romanowski and John Calce, 45, Mafiaboy's father.

Because of loyalty, Calce says, there is no chance his son would sit down with authorities to discuss his private communications with friends. I don't think he'll be cooperating with them.

In a bizarre case that parallels the one involving his son, Calce is facing a conspiracy charge because of what Canadian authorities heard on the telephone wiretap designed to garner evidence against his son.

Investigators say they decided to move in on both of them the morning of April 15 after phone transmissions picked up Calce, who is president of a transportation company, allegedly planning to have someone rough up a business associate.

Romanowski, who also represents Calce, suggests that the father's strong words on the telephone were simply misinterpreted.

Calce says the dispute involved about $1.5 million but adds that he never intended to hurt anyone.

It was the worst possible thing that could happen, Calce says of the police raid at his suburban home. I came downstairs in my bathrobe, and there were about 20 Mounties in my house. One guy grabbed me by the robe; I told him to get his hands off. I'm not an easy guy to push around.

There is no disputing that.

Calce's chalk-stripe suit doesn't hide his formidable size and raw manner. Unshaven and blunt-speaking, Calce's physical presence, plus the charge lodged against him, seems to invite questions about whether there is any special significance to his son's Internet moniker.

Calce and his lawyer consider the question, share a chuckle and then politely decline to respond.

I don't think we'll comment on that one, Romanowski says.

Patrick Healy, a law professor at McGill University in Montreal, says a trial in the Mafiaboy case almost certainly would provide a unique forum to contest privacy issues and sabotage in the computer world.

There have not been many prosecutions of this kind anywhere, he says.

And if there is an advantage to taking this case to trial, the professor says, it might be tied directly to the defendant's age. A trial just might show this boy to be a clever kid who should not be hit with a ton of bricks, Healy says.

Computer security analyst Marc Rasch says prosecutors should not be intimidated by Romanowski's threat to expose potentially damaging hacking information. In this case, he says, the type of assault already has been fairly well detailed in media accounts of the charges lodged against the boy. There is genuine risk that publication (of this formula) again could cause additional exploitation, Rasch says, but that shouldn't dictate how the prosecution should proceed.

Miville-Deschenes, the prosecutor, does not appear to be fazed by the prospect of courtroom disclosure of sensitive information.

However, he is concerned about the potential cost of a lengthy trial and the presentation of complex evidence to a judge whose computer savvy might be limited.

I understand that there may be a certain Robin Hood-type aspect to this case that could foster sympathy for the defendant, the prosecutor says. This was a kid who was able to bring huge dot-com companies to their knees. . . . If he were an arsonist, people would want to stone him because of the damage he caused. The intent in this case and the damage caused is basically the same.

If the hacking case goes to trial, Calce says, the defense will make no attempt to portray his son as a perfect kid.

In addition to his arrest last Friday, the teen spent two days in detention last July for associating with two boys he was prohibited from seeing while the charges are pending. Romanowski says his client was merely attempting to avoid the two friends when police swooped in.

The kid is definitely feeling the pressure, Romanowski says. He doesn't find it funny. He has found out that the margin for error in his life right now is not what it used to be. There are a lot of people out there just waiting for him to slip up.

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