Accused credit card hacker lived large in Miami
MIAMI BEACH, Florida -- Nestled near a row of sultry, silvery-green palm trees and an infinity pool, room 1508 at the National Hotel on South Beach is a portrait of Art Deco luxury. It is also where, on May 7, 2008, federal agents seized two computers, $22,000 in cash and a Glock 9 gun from a man known on the Internet as "soupnazi."
His real name is Albert Gonzalez, and he was with his girlfriend when federal agents arrived. Just as the setting was not run-of-the-mill, neither was the arrest. Gonzalez was charged with hacking into business computer networks and stealing credit and debit card accounts — and in an embarrassing twist, he had once been an informant for the U.S. Secret Service.
This week, Gonzalez, 28, was indicted in New Jersey on more federal charges. Now the biggest credit card hacks of the decade — totaling 170 million accounts — have been pinned on Gonzalez.
Industry analysts marveled at the scope of the operation — which Gonzalez allegedly dubbed "Get Rich or Die Tryin'." One compared it to a hackers' version of the 1980s gangster movie Scarface.
"Albert Gonzalez is definitely the Tony Montana of credit card theft," said Sean Arries, a computer security expert at the Miami-based Internet technology company Terremark.
Gonzalez has been in custody since his 2008 arrest in Miami Beach. He awaits federal trials in New York and Massachusetts, along with the New Jersey charges. If convicted he faces life in prison.
Gonzalez's lawyer, Rene Palomino Jr., wouldn't address the charges in detail, saying that the case is in a "very delicate stage" and that Gonzalez is trying to resolve it. The attorney said Gonzalez and federal prosecutors were close to reaching a plea deal in the New York and Massachusetts cases this week, before the New Jersey indictment was added.
People who know Gonzalez say he is a nerdy, shy man who got mixed up in a shadowy world.
"Albert is not a mean-spirited individual, he desires no physical harm on anybody and he wouldn't hurt a fly," said Palomino, who first met his client when Gonzalez was an 8-year-old altar boy. "He's really not a bad guy. He just got way in over his head."