Computers Seized in Data-Theft Probe

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By Brian Krebs
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, May 19, 2005; 6:16 PM

The federal investigation into the massive theft of sensitive personal records  from database giant LexisNexis Inc. intensified this week with the execution of search warrants and seizure of evidence from several individuals across the country, according to federal law enforcement officials.

Three people targeted in the investigation confirmed that federal investigators had served warrants at their homes. The group included a minor who has been in contact with a washingtonpost.com reporter for three months and who said he was directly involved in the LexisNexis breach.

Another of the three, Zach Mann, 18, of Maple Grove, Minn., said FBI and Secret Service personnel came to his home Monday and removed personal computers and dozens of computer discs.

"They came looking for anything connected with LexisNexis," Mann said, before deferring further comment to his attorney, who confirmed that a federal search warrant had been executed at his client's address.

Michael Brooks, a spokesman for the FBI's Cincinnati field office, confirmed that FBI and Secret Service agents served the search warrant at Mann's residence and that the warrant was related to the LexisNexis investigation. Paul Bresson, an FBI spokesman in Washington, said search warrants related to the LexisNexis investigation were served in California on Monday and Tuesday.

"They busted down the door and ran at me with guns pointed in my face," said  Jason Hawks, 23, of Winston-Salem, N.C., in a telephone interview, adding that he called 911 because he "saw people surrounding the house and I thought it was burglars at first." 

Hawks said agents pulled him outside on the front lawn and grilled him with a series of questions about the LexisNexis intrusions. He said agents showed him a short list of names and asked whether he had looked them up using a stolen account for a LexisNexis service. Hawks said he admitted to the agents that he had.

"I gave them everything they wanted to know but they still played the good cop, bad cop game," Hawks said. "They wanted to know whether I'd sold any of the information I saw, and I told them I didn't do any of that, that someone handed me a link and login and I just got caught up in it."

The minor, whose identity is not being revealed because he is a juvenile crime suspect and because he communicated with a washingtonpost.com reporter on condition of anonymity, said federal officials "raided" his home this week and seized his computer. He said investigators "got everybody" involved in the digital break-in.

Nine people in all were served search warrants by investigators, according to a senior federal law enforcement official who asked not to be identified because of his role in this and other ongoing investigations. The official said several members of the group are also believed by investigators to be involved in the much-publicized hacking in February of hotel heiress Paris Hilton's T-Mobile cell phone account, but he did not specify which members.

The law enforcement source also said the arrest Tuesday of four people in Northern California was connected to the LexisNexis investigation. But when contacted by washingtonpost.com, Special Agent Larae Quy at the San Francisco FBI field office said four individuals were detained by Hayward, Calif., authorities on drug-related charges but did not confirm a connection to the LexisNexis investigation, saying the warrants had been sealed by a court order and that she was barred from discussing anything about them.

Officials at the Washington headquarters of the Secret Service declined to comment when contacted about the investigation.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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