A Florida man pleaded guilty Monday in Los Angeles to federal charges for hacking into the email accounts of Scarlett Johansson, Christina Aguilera, Mila Kunis and other celebrities, then was unexpectedly ordered immediately into custody.
Christopher Chaney, a 35-year-old clerical worker from Jacksonville, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge S. James Otero to unauthorized computer access, wiretapping and other felony charges contained in a criminal indictment.
During the hearing, the judge heard that Chaney had hacked into the email account of a member of the entertainment industry identified only by the initials “C.B.” in the months following a February 2011 search of his home in which federal investigators seized computer equipment.
“I just don’t understand why any person that is rational could continue this conduct” after being “put on notice there is a federal investigation” of his actions, Otero said.
The judge said it seems as if Chaney “cannot resist his impulses to commit these offenses . . . .I just don’t understand the mindset.”
Otero then placed a shocked-looking Chaney, who had been free on bond, directly into federal custody pending sentencing July 23. He faces up to 60 years in prison, plus fines and restitution of about $2.5 million.
Earlier, defense attorney Jamon Hicks told the judge that Chaney’s guilty plea to the charges came after “”exhaustive” discussions regarding possible defenses.
The case involves as many as 50 victims, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa E. Feldman said. Along with Johansson, Aguilera and Kunis, actress Renee Olstead and celebrity stylist Simone Harouche were named in court records.
Feldman told the court that between November 2010 and last October, Chaney used his home computers to take “exclusive control” of victims’ email accounts, often changing forwarding features so duplicates of all their communications would be sent to him at a phony account he had set up for that purpose.
Feldman said that form of wiretapping allowed Chaney to continually receive victims’ emails even after a password had been reset.
Chaney distributed some of the files he obtained illegally, including photos of celebrities, and offered them to various celebrity gossip sites, the prosecutor told the court.
Feldman said some of the photos were “explicit,” but money did not appear to be Chaney’s motive.
Some of the illegally obtained files, including private photographs, were ultimately
Among the photos were nude pictures of Johansson that the actress told Vanity Fair were taken for her now ex-husband, actor Ryan Reynolds.
Asked by Otero if the charges were true, Chaney replied in a quiet voice, “Yes, sir.”
Chaney told the judge he had graduated high school from Trinity Christian Academy in Florida, then took a few electrical courses. He said that when employed, he was an entry-level clerical worker.
Feldman told Otero that Chaney has a prior federal conviction in Florida for wire fraud, but a defense attorney said his client had only a minor role in that case.