- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Romanian computer hacker who breached the personal accounts of more than 100 victims including an advisor to Hillary Clinton has asked a federal judge to spare him a lengthy prison stint ahead of a sentencing hearing set for Thursday morning in Alexandria, Virginia.

Marcel Lazăr Lehel, also known as Guccifer, faces seven years behind bars when he’s sentenced Thursday morning over a 14-month hacking spree that targeted a confidant of Mrs. Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal, as well as Colin Powell and members of the Bush family, among others.

He was extradited to the U.S. in April and pleaded guilty the following month to counts of computer hacking and aggravated identity theft.

In a pre-sentencing report filed Monday in federal court, attorneys for the hacker asked U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris to sentence their client to only 36 months in prison when he renders his decision this week, including one year for the hacking charge in addition to a mandatory 24-month sentence served consecutively for identity theft.

Mr. Lazar, 44, has been in custody since January 2014 when he was arrested by Romanian authorities and charged with hacking local officials. He was serving a seven-year sentence there — largely in isolation, according to his American attorney — when the U.S. Justice Department unsealed an indictment several months later charging him with cybercrimes in the U.S.

Although the hacker’s American victims are unidentified in public court documents, reports prior to his arrest linked the “Guccifer” handle to attacks against Mr. Blumenthal, Mr. Powell and the Bush family.

Emails stolen from the Mr. Blumenthal’s email account in 2013 were subsequently leaked to the media and revealed that Mrs. Clinton used a nongovernmental email account for official business as secretary of state. Mrs. Clinton’s use of that account was the center of a federal investigation that just recently concluded, and FBI Director James Comey said previously that Mr. Lazar was interviewed as part of that probe.

Much of the docket in the Guccifer case remains under seal, including documents filed as recently as this week in addition to details concerning Mr. Lazar’s cooperation with the government, according to public documents.

Among those available is Monday’s pre-sentencing report in which defense attorneys portray the hacker as an ideological and well-intentioned family man who has taken responsibility for his actions, voluntarily assisted with multiple law enforcement agencies and wants to be reunited with his wife and daughter in Romania as soon as possible.

“Like several other recent hacking cases, Mr. Lazar was not motivated by financial gain but principally by a desire to bring to light actions of public officials and those in power in order to expose what he saw as hypocrisy, especially in those connected to the defense and intelligence sectors which support and rely on government electronic surveillance, and to further public discourse, although he did so without the specialized knowledge or technical skills of an expert hacker. His efforts were certainly misguided and harmful to numerous victims, and he recognizes that he will be punished accordingly, as he already has been in Romania,” attorneys for the hacker wrote in Monday’s court filing.

“While it is understandably troubling that Mr. Lazar continued to engage in hacking activities, he has now received a lengthy sentence in his home country, been sent for further prosecution to a foreign country where he has no ties, and separated from his family,” his attorneys added. “In any event and most importantly, were the Court to impose the sentence requested here by Mr. Lazar — a total of 36 months for both counts — Mr. Lazar will have received a total global sentence of imprisonment of 10 years when taking into account his Romanian prison sentence.”

Justice Department prosecutors said in a report of their last own last week that the hacker deserves a minimum of four years in federal prison for committing a cybercampaign against at least 100 victims, stealing sensitive data to share so he could harass and embarrass them.

“Defendant, as a repeat offender in such a short time period, has shown no respect for the law. Moreover, the fact that he derived gratification from controlling and releasing other parties’ private information makes it more likely that he will re-offend in the future. A significant sentence is thus warranted,” the government’s attorneys wrote.

Although guidelines used to impose federal prison sentences are usually barred from taking into account foreign convictions when determining a defendant’s punishment, prosecutors argue that the hacker’s past crimes present a “textbook example” of when exceptions should be made, and that a significant sentence is necessary to prevent future hackers from following in Guccifer’s footsteps — an event that has already happened, the government acknowledged.

“Moreover, as incidents of computer hacking continue to rise, sentences in cases such as this gain increasing importance for their deterrent value. Defendant has not been sentenced yet and already another hacker or set of hackers who released private information online have branded themselves ‘Guccifer 2.0’ in homage to defendant. Given the anonymity available online and the proliferation of tools available to cybercriminals to evade law enforcement, significant penalties are necessary to send a message that hacking will not go unpunished,” prosecutors wrote in last week’s filing on behalf of the Justice Department.

A blog attributed to “Guccifer 2.0” has leaked a cache of hacked Democratic Party documents in recent weeks following a wave of cyberattacks largely blamed by U.S. officials on Russia. The person behind the blog wrote in June that the original Guccifer was an inspiration who “proved that even the powers that be have weak points.” 

While being interrogated in 2014, Mr. Lazar told the FBI that rejected the idea of being revered for his hacks.

“How do you want people to remember you?” the hacker was asked, according to a transcript released last week.

“I am not important,” Mr. Lehel responded.

“What is important?”

“A better world for our children.”

A public defender appointed to Mr. Lazar told The Washington Times on Wednesday that the hacker’s legal team does not comment on pending cases. Prosecutors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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