A Bahamian man hacked into celebrities' email accounts to steal unreleased movie and TV scripts and private sex tapes and sought to peddle some of the scripts, boasting to an undercover agent that he had dossiers on at least 130 accounts of bigshots in entertainment, sports, and media, federal prosecutors said. Alonzo Knowles was being held without bail after a court appearance Tuesday on criminal copyright infringement and identity theft charges as prosecutors described a scheme that also involved proffering an actor's passport, Social Security numbers in the case of three professional athletes, unreleased tracks from a singer-songwriter's upcoming album, and an explicit video grabbed from a radio host's email account. A prosecutor said agents had spoken to unidentified victims who were "quite traumatized" by the theft of their personal information.
The investigation into the 23-year-old Knowles began only this month, after "a popular radio host" received an unsolicited offer from someone selling scripts for the next season of a popular TV drama, according to court papers. Authorities followed that offer to Knowles, of Freeport, Bahamas, who claimed to have "exclusive content" worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, a Homeland Security agent said in a complaint. Within days, Knowles—via video call—was showing an undercover agent scripts for an unreleased comedy movie, a new TV show, and other materials, the complaint said. Knowles said he'd gotten into celebrities' accounts by sending either a computer virus or a false warning that the person's account had been hacked, and then using the information he got back to change the accounts' email settings, it said. At a meeting in New York on Monday, the day he was arrested, he offered to sell the undercover agent about 15 TV and movie scripts for $80,000, it said. (Read more email hacking stories.)