He'd betrayed the Secret Service and cost U.S. companies and credit card users big money. TJX alone lost 46.5 million credit card numbers and spent more than $132 million paying back customers, fixing security flaws, and defending itself in lawsuits. Banks, retailers, and payroll companies racked up "hundreds of millions" in expenses, prosecutors said.

"He knowingly victimized a group of people whose population exceeded that of many major cities and some states," prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. 

But Albert pleaded with the judge that he didn't do it out of avarice.

Jonathan James hacked into NASA when he was 16.
Courtesy of the James family
Jonathan James hacked into NASA when he was 16.
Albert Gonzalez stole hundreds of millions of credit card numbers.
Albert Gonzalez stole hundreds of millions of credit card numbers.

"I didn't throw it away because of egotism or greed," he said. "I threw it away because of my inability to stop my pursuit of curiosity and my addiction."

The month before, a psychologist named Barry Roth had testified that Albert might suffer from Asperger's disorder, which is similar to autism. He noted the hacker was "possessed by a twisted genius."

Palomino, in part, blames the Secret Service for not monitoring Albert more closely. "Sending him home with a laptop would be like a DEA agent sending a cokehead informant home with a kilo for the weekend and expecting him to come back with the whole thing on Monday," he says. "The guy had an addiction."

But the prosecution's psychologist, Mark J. Mills, argued that internet addiction isn't recognized by mainstream medicine and that Albert clearly knew what he was doing when he stole.

The truth, perhaps, lies somewhere in the middle. Going back to his earliest days as a hacker, it's clear that Albert never really stopped breaking the law online — he just got better at pretending that he had reformed himself. And if his hacking was rooted in intellectual curiosity, by the end it was also driven by naked greed.

This past March 25, U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris sentenced Albert to 20 years in prison, much of it to be served in isolation because of his role as an informant. He was also ordered to repay $69,143,862.80. Another restitution hearing is set for June. It was the stiffest sentence ever handed down to a cybercriminal.

Chris Scott received a seven-year federal sentence. Stephen Watt got two years and was required to pay $171.5 million in restitution. Damon Toey earned five years in prison. Yastremskiy was hit with a 30-year prison sentence by Turkish courts.

Prosecutors say two Russian criminals, identified only as "Hacker 1" and "Hacker 2," played a key role in all the thefts. They remain at large.

After Jonathan's death, Bobby James moved back into the Pinecrest home with his other son, Josh.

The house, still cluttered with Jonathan's books and videogames, has the air of a bachelor pad. The brick-lined pool out back is half-full of tea-colored storm water.

Bobby says he still struggles with Jonathan's suicide. He brushes his teeth every morning in the same bathroom where his son died. "I just try to remember the good times we've had in this house," he says.

He is still not sure how much of a role Jonathan played in Albert's scheme. He believes his son's claim that he didn't participate in the huge TJX break-in. "But I do believe that he was doing other illegal stuff for Albert," he says.

Bobby also tries to keep a sense of humor about his boy's brilliant and troubled life. He and Josh sometimes laugh about how confused Jonathan was when federal agents took his Klingon dictionary. They chuckle about the time he was desperate enough for cash to eat a whole jalapeño for $20.

A few weeks ago, Bobby printed simple white business cards with Jonathan's name, his date of birth and date of death, and this simple inscription:

"Google 'c0mrade hacker.' (Please Remember Me)."

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