Former FAMU Student Sentenced In Computer Hacking Case

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Press Release: U. S. Department of Justice

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – Christopher J. Wright, 23, of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, was sentenced today to two years in federal prison for aggravated identity theft and access device fraud arising from a scheme to steal financial aid monies from students at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

While students at FAMU in 2010, Wright and his co-defendants, Carliss Pereira, 22, of Tallahassee, and Carl Coutard, 22, of Miami Shores, Florida, discovered a means of accessing the financial aid accounts of other students in FAMU’s iRattler computer system. The defendants obtained the usernames, passwords, and other personal identifying information of their fellow students by taking paperwork discarded in the trash bins near the FAMU computer help desk, by gathering information from public sources on the internet, and by tricking FAMU employees and the students themselves into providing this information. The defendants used the information to log on to the financial aid accounts of students who were scheduled to receive financial aid refunds. The defendants then changed the bank account and routing numbers in the victims’ financial aid accounts to divert the victims’ financial aid refunds to pre-paid debit cards held by the defendants. In all but a few cases, FAMU was able to reverse the fraudulent transfers.

Pereira and Coutard pled guilty to access device fraud and aggravated identity theft charges earlier this year. Coutard was sentenced to six months of home detention and six months of community confinement, and was ordered to perform 80 hours of community service, as conditions of a three-year term of supervised release. Pereira was sentenced to a three-year term of supervised release with conditions that he serve four months of home detention and two months of community confinement. Pereira was also ordered to perform 80 hours of community service and to pay $3,983 in restitution to FAMU.

In announcing the sentence imposed by the court, United States Attorney Pamela C. Marsh said, “Today’s sentence sends a clear message that engaging in this type of criminal conduct will have serious consequences, including the real possibility of a felony conviction and a prison term. The defendants in this case quite literally breached the security of their university, in an effort to victimize their fellow students.” Ms. Marsh expressed her deep gratitude to the FBI, the FAMU Police Department, the United States Department of Education – Office of Inspector General, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the United States Secret Service, whose excellent investigative work resulted in these prosecutions. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rhew-Miller prosecuted the case.

Statement from FAMU

Florida A&M University has implemented additional security measures related to students setting up direct deposit accounts since the 2010 incident. The U.S. Attorney's Office involvement in issuing indictments indicates that FAMU is serious about addressing the alleged criminal acts. As a point of clarification, the individuals did not hack into the system, but gained access to student personal information using deceptive tactics and improperly used the information to commit the alleged criminal acts. Since implementing the security measures, FAMU has not had any repeat incidents.

US Department of Justice Release

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – Carl Joseph Coutard, 21, and Carliss Pereira, 22, both of Miami, Florida, and Christopher J. Wright, 22, of Fort Lauderdale, have been charged with conspiring to access the iRattler computer system at the Florida A&M University (FAMU) in order to divert financial aid monies to themselves.

The indictment was announced today by Pamela C. Marsh, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

The eight-count indictment alleges that between March and November 2010, the three men illegally used the personal identifying information of their fellow FAMU students, without the students’ permission, to access the students’ financial aid information in the iRattler system.

As alleged in the indictment, the defendants then changed the students’ bank account and routing information without the students’ knowledge or consent.

When the students were due to receive financial aid refunds, the defendants would divert these monies to bank accounts the defendants had fraudulently opened in the students’ names.

In addition to conspiracy, Wright is charged with one count of using an unauthorized access device, Coutard and Pereira are charged with possession of more than 15 unauthorized access devices, and Coutard is charged with obtaining information from a protected computer without authorization.

The unauthorized access device offenses are punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The computer intrusion and conspiracy offenses each carry a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison.

All three men are also charged with aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory term of 2 years in prison, which must be served consecutively to any other sentence.

U.S. Attorney Marsh praised the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FAMU Police Department, the United States Department of Education, the United States Secret Service, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, whose joint investigation led to the indictment in the case.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rhew-Miller.

An indictment is merely an allegation by a grand jury that a defendant has committed a violation of federal criminal law and is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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