United States Attorney Paul J. McNulty and Michael Chertoff, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, announced today the first guilty plea in the Eastern District of Virginia in the largest international online copyright piracy investigation conducted by federal law enforcement. John Sankus, Jr., age 28, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, co-leader of one of the oldest organized software piracy groups on the Internet, pled guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement before U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema this morning. Sankus, who will be sentenced on May 17, 2002, at 9:00 am, could receive a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
Sankus was the co-leader of an international Internet software piracy group known as DrinkOrDie. DrinkOrDie engaged in the illegal distribution of copyrighted software, games and movies over the Internet, specializing in being the first to release high-end software applications and utilities. DrinkOrDie is one of many highly structured, security conscious organizations that illegally reproduce and distribute hundreds of thousands of copies of copyrighted works around the world worth billions of dollars in losses each year. Members rarely meet in person and frequently only know each other through their screen nicknames.
“This is a crime against the integrity of our electronic infrastructure,. said U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty. .It is imperative that we stop these .techno-gangs. from exploiting new technologies for criminal purposes. This plea is another significant step in our effort to eliminate intellectual property crime on the Internet and to make it safe for individuals and businesses to develop and use new software and technologies,. said U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty. As part of the plea agreement, the United States and Sankus agreed that the amount of damage attributable to the defendant’s actions, during the period charged, exceeds $2.5 million but is less than $5 million.
As co-leader of DrinkOrDie, Sankus was principally responsible for the management and supervision of the day-to-day operations of the criminal enterprise. Sankus supervised approximately 60 individuals who acquired, cracked, and distributed (.released.) the pirated software. Company insiders (.suppliers.) often provided the group with new software, frequently days or weeks before the software would be released to the general public. Group members known as “crackers” would defeat the software’s embedded copyright protections, allowing the software to be illegally reproduced and used by anyone obtaining a copy. The finished product was then quickly distributed to sites located throughout the world for further distribution to an ever-expanding web of sites. Within hours, a new release could be found on hundreds of illegal sites throughout the world.
DrinkorDie concealed these sites and conducted business in closed invite-only Internet relay chat channels. Sankus and other high ranking members of DrinkOrDie used encryption to conceal all e-mails discussing the group’s illegal activities. “John Sankus and his group knew what they were doing was illegal and they took every technological step possible to conceal their activity,” said McNulty.
DrinkOrDie was the primary group targeted by “Operation Buccaneer,” a 15-month undercover investigation by the United States Customs Service with assistance from the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
On December 11th, the primary investigative phase of Operation Buccaneer culminated in the simultaneous execution worldwide of over 70 search warrants against targets of the investigation. To date, warrants and/or arrests have been executed in the United States, Australia, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Finland. Numerous targets of the investigation were arrested and taken into custody in the United Kingdom and investigations are currently ongoing in each of these countries. “Operation Buccaneer brought to light the severity and scope of a multi-billion-dollar software swindle perpetrated over the Internet,” said U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner. “This investigation is the first of several cases by the U.S. Customs Service to dismantle the top groups engaged in this illegal activity.”
Marty Stansell-Gamm, Chief of CCIPS, said, “The Internet makes it essential for law enforcement to cooperate across international borders in order to effectively target all members of these warez groups. Operation Buccaneer is an excellent example of how international cooperation can result in effective criminal enforcement on a global scale. We are committed to protecting the intellectual property rights of this country and will continue to work diligently, both here and abroad, to investigate and prosecute those individuals and groups who traffic in pirated products.”
In addition to the plea agreement entered this morning, the United States Attorney expects additional prosecutions in the Eastern District of Virginia as a result of the first phase of Operation Buccaneer. Assistant United States Attorney Robert Wiechering, Michael DuBose, Senior Counsel, CCIPS, and Michael O’Leary, Trial Attorney, CCIPS, are prosecuting the case for the United States.
Further questions may be directed to the United States Attorney’s Office.
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