Two Plead 'No Contest' In MySpace Extortion Scam

Feb 27, 2007 (11:02 AM EST)

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Two men have pleaded no contest to charges stemming from their scheme to write malicious code and use it to extort $150,000 from MySpace.

Shaun Harrison and Saverio F Mondelli, both of New York, pleaded on Monday to the single charge of unauthorized computer access. Three other charges, including attempted extortion and another unauthorized access charge, were dropped, according to Jeffrey McGrath, deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County.

Both men received credit for nine days of time served, along with individual fines of $200 to $250 and restitution of $12,500 to $13,500. The court also mandated that Harrison, 19, and Mondelli, 20, have restricted access to computers -- they can't sell identifying programs, they must run monitoring software on their machines, and they can only use one e-mail account to which their probation officers have access.

"With this particular case, the nature of the actions caused MySpace a lot of concerns," says Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Fairtlough. "The individuals were young, but this was a sophisticated attack."

MySpace could not be contacted in time for this article.

Harrison and Mondelli were arrested in May of 2006 in an Electronic Crimes Task Force undercover sting. The crime had started the year before, according to McGrath. The men operated a Web site called out of Medford, N.Y., and wrote programs that would exploit a flaw in the social networking Web site and enable them to gather personal information on MySpace users.

The men began selling the programs online. MySpace technicians discovered what was happening and blocked the programs. McGrath says MySpace executives contacted them and told them to cease and desist. Harrison and Mondelli, instead, told MySpace "they would not cease and they would not desist, and they were developing a new tracker they could not block," adds McGrath.

The deputy district attorney also says the men told MySpace that for a "consulting fee" of $150,000 they wouldn't release the tracker program. "It was an attempt at extortion," he said.

When Mondelli and Harrison traveled to Los Angeles for what they thought was a meeting with MySpace executives, they were arrested by undercover investigators on the task force.