Jerome Heckenkamp — a whiz kid who began teaching himself algebra when he was 8 and started college by 14 — denies he had hacked into six company Web sites.
The 21-year-old computer network engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory who formerly attended the University of Wisconsin said he was innocent after U.S. Magistrate Richard Puglisi ordered him to appear Jan. 18 at a San Jose court, and the next day in San Diego to face computer-tampering charges.
"They're just using me as a scapegoat," he told reporters after Thursday's hearing.
Heckenkamp — allegedly using the nicknames of "Magic" or "MagicFX" — is accused of targeting the companies, including eBay Inc. and E-Trade Group, in 1999, before he was hired at Los Alamos last June.
No ‘Sensitive’ Information
Heckenkamp said an unknown person broke into the companies' computers by working through his computer while he was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"There's nothing associated with my name in any of those computer files," he said.
By the time he left the university and applied at Los Alamos, FBI agents had seized his computer and were investigating the case.
But he said they told him someone else had used his computer to do the hacking. He said he didn't tell the lab because he thought the matter was behind him.
Lab officials said as a probationary employee, Heckenkamp never had any security clearances.
"He had no access, repeat no access, to any sensitive information," a lab official said Thursday, speaking on condition that his name not be used. The University of California operates the lab for the U.S. Department of Energy.
Los Alamos officials have not yet commented publicly on the case.
Heckenkamp, who also lectures on computer programming at the University of New Mexico, said he is still formally a lab employee, but he was not allowed to work there.
Asked about Heckenkamp's job status, the lab official said he couldn't comment on whether he was still employed there, "but all administrative actions at our disposal have been taken on this matter.
Born in Australia
Heckenkamp was born in New South Wales, Australia, and moved with his family to Pewaukee, Wis., when he was 3½ years old.
He was initially taught at home by his parents, Tom and Tracie Heckenkamp, until he was admitted to Carroll College in Waukesha and the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha when he was 14.
He claimed he obtained a master's in computer science from UW-Madison in May 1999, but school records show he had not received the advanced degree.
Heckenkamp faces 85 years in prison and $4 million in fines, but prosecutors said sentencing guidelines could reduce those.
EBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said a hacker posted a statement on eBay's home page in March 1999, but he would not comment on whether that person was Heckenkamp.
ETrade spokeswoman Judy Balint said her company learned in March 1999 that it was being targeted by a hacker, but no one had broken into its sites following the warning.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Heckenkamp's arrest shows the lab's security system works.
"He had the right kind of brain, but he didn't have the right kind of behavior," Domenici said.
"I don't think it in any way hurts Los Alamos," he added.
Heckenkamp's father, of Pewaukee, Wis., told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel his son told him he had worked in highly sensitive areas at the lab.