- The Washington Times - Monday, January 11, 2016

Former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa pleaded guilty on Friday to five counts of computer hacking and admitted he repeatedly accessed another professional baseball team’s proprietary database without authorization.

Correa, 35, had worked for the Cardinals since 2009 before he was fired in July amid accusations he was involved in a hacking scandal involving a database of athlete information maintained by the Houston Astros.

Federal prosecutors waited until Dec. 22 to charge Correa with the hacking campaign, and the allegations were left sealed until he appeared at a Houston, Texas, courthouse on Friday and pleaded guilty to five counts of unauthorized access to computer information.

Prosecutors said Correa repeatedly accessed scouting notes and other data from an internal Astros database, dubbed “Ground Control,” starting in 2013. When the Houston Chronicle reported on the database in the following years, the Astros implemented a handful of security precautions to keep intruders from gaining access.

Nevertheless, government attorneys said Correa continued to view the information and saw at least 188 pages of confidential information ranging from trade discussions and player evaluations to other details meant for the Astros only.

Correa had previously said he had accessed the database, but only to ensure that the Astros hadn’t been stealing information from his own team.

“I accept responsibility in this case,” the former scouting director told U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes at Friday’s hearing. “I trespassed repeatedly.”

“It was stupid,” said Correa, who is free on $20,000 bond. He’ll face a maximum penalty of five years apiece on each of the five counts of computer hacking as well as upwards of $250,000 in fines, plus restitution, when he is sentenced in April.

In a statement, Major League Baseball applauded the Justice Department for “investigating the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database, and identifying the perpetrator of this crime.”

“We anticipate that the authorities will share with us the results of their investigation at the appropriate time, and we will determine what further actions to take after receiving all the relevant information,” MLB said.

“We have secured an appropriate conviction in this case as a result of a very detailed, thorough and complete investigation,” U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said in a statement. “Unauthorized computer intrusion is not to be taken lightly. Whether it’s preserving the sanctity of America’s pastime or protecting trade secrets, those that unlawfully gain proprietary information by accessing computers without authorization must be held accountable for their illegal actions.”

Correa’s unauthorized viewing of the Astros data cost the Houston team upwards of $1.7 million, Mr. Magidson said.

“It has to do with the talent that was on the record that they were able to have access to, that they wouldn’t have otherwise had access to,” he told reporters. “They were watching what the Astros were doing.”

“This is a difficult day for all of Major League Baseball,” the Astros said in a statement. “The Astros refute Mr. Correa’s statement that our database contained any information that was proprietary to the St. Louis Cardinals. We have a great amount of respect for Bill DeWitt and the Cardinals organization. And, we are confident that Commissioner (Rob) Manfred will guide MLB through this process in the best way possible.”

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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