- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Pennsylvania man who admitted hacking into the email accounts of celebrities and stealing their private information and personal photographs was sentenced this week to 18 months in federal prison.

Ryan Collins, 36, of Lancaster began serving his 1½-year prison stint immediately upon being sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, the Department of Justice said in a statement.

As acknowledged in a plea deal, Collins successfully breached at least 50 Apple iCloud and 72 Gmail accounts between November 2012 and September 2014, including several belonging to female celebrities.

Collins’ victims aren’t named in court documents, but prosecutors said they set their sights on him while investigating the 2014 “Celebgate” scandal that saw nude images of celebrities including actresses Jennifer Lawrence, Kirsten Dunst and Kaley Cuoco leaked online.

While investigating the unauthorized publication of those personal photos, authorities determined that Collins had hacked his way into accounts of multiple victims. According to investigators, however, no evidence exists to suggest Collins leaked their images to the web.

Collins admitted sending emails to hundreds of targets posing as an employee of either Apple or Google, according to court documents. Recipients were instructed to gave the bogus representative their usernames and passwords, which Collins then used to access their accounts and pilfer private information, including personal emails, nude photographs and videos.

“The defendant intruded into the online accounts of hundreds of victims and in doing so, intruded upon their lives, causing lasting distress,” Deirdre Fike, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, said in a statement. “The prison sentence received by Mr. Collins is proof that hacking into the accounts of others and stealing private information or images is a crime with serious consequences.”

Collins pleaded guilty in May to one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information, and had faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Charges were initially brought by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, but the case was transferred to the Keystone State earlier this year. 

A second man accused in the scandal, Edward Majerczyk, pleaded guilty to the same charge last month in Chicago and is slated to be sentenced in January. He, too, faces a maximum of five years in prison, but prosecutors have said they would seek a nine-month sentence. Authorities believe Majerczyk did not leak any images and that the two hackers worked independently of one another.

“Hackers violate federal law whenever they access private information stored online and in digital devices,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said in Wednesday’s statement. “Today people store important private information online and in their digital devices, which is why my office is deeply committed to holding hackers accountable, even when they do not sell or distribute the stolen data.”

A federal investigation aimed at identifying the source of the Celebgate leak was active as of last month, the Chicago Tribune reported at the time.

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