The pair of modest homes blend in on Chicago’s South Side.
One is a small brick bungalow in a gritty part of town. The other is an apartment in the shadow of Midway Airport.
But personal computers inside those homes might have played a role in a hacking scandal last summer that rocked Hollywood and exposed intimate photos of some of its most glamorous stars.
The FBI’s investigation into the online hack known as “Celebgate” — the leak of nude and sexually explicit photos of dozens of A-list celebrities — led them to Chicago on Oct. 16, according to federal court records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
That’s when agents raided an apartment on South Narragansett in the Clearing neighborhood and a house on South Washtenaw in Brighton Park, the records show.
None of the people mentioned in the documents as residents of the homes has been criminally charged, federal court records indicate.
But the FBI suspected people inside used computers to access multiple celebrities’ email accounts and Apple iCloud accounts over the course of several months, according to two affidavits filed in October in Chicago by an FBI agent based in Los Angeles.
A judge’s order sealing the agent’s search warrant applications expired last month, records show.
The unique computer IP address at the home on Washtenaw was used to access 572 unique iCloud accounts between May 31, 2013 and Aug. 31, 2014, according to one affidavit. In total, the agent said those accounts were accessed 3,263 times.
The IP address on Narragansett accessed 330 unique iCloud accounts between May and August 2014, according to the other. Of those, 291 allegedly belonged to people who registered their accounts outside Illinois. Those 291 accounts were accessed more than 600 times, the agent wrote.
Ultimately, the agent listed the initials of eight “Celebgate” victims whose accounts were allegedly accessed from a computer in the home on Washtenaw, and at least 11 allegedly accessed from a computer in the home on Narragansett. The feds also listed initials of eight celebrities whose accounts they said were “accessed or attempted to be accessed” on Narragansett.
Attempts to reach the occupants of the Washtenaw home were unsuccessful. A man who answered the front door of the apartment building on Narragansett declined to talk about the raid. A woman who came to the door later told a reporter, “There’s no comment here.”
Records show the feds walked out of the homes seven months ago with several computers, cellphones, a Kindle, floppy disks, hard drives and thumb drives.
An FBI spokeswoman in Los Angeles confirmed the “Celebgate” investigation is ongoing and no criminal charges have been filed. It’s unclear from the records filed in Chicago if the investigation led authorities to additional addresses locally or across the country.
Purported “Celebgate” victims included Jennifer Lawrence, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Kate Upton and boyfriend Justin Verlander.
Winstead purportedly took to Twitter after the hack and wrote, “Knowing those photos were deleted long ago, I can only imagine the creepy effort that went into this. Feeling for everyone who got hacked.”
And in an interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence called the leak a “sex crime.”
The affidavits filed in Chicago describe interviews with some of the victimized celebrities but refer to them only by their initials. The agent described one interview with “J.L.” that he had to stop because she became “very distraught.”
“J.L. stated she was having an anxiety attack and was visibly shaken,” the agent wrote.
Some of the celebrities reported they’d been briefly locked out of their online accounts before the leak. Others said they received so-called “phishing” messages that are used to scam people out of their usernames and passwords.
The celebrities generally said the photographs were meant only for their significant others. One, identified as “A.H.,” said she sent some of the 54 private leaked photographs to her fiancé.
But she never sent him the others, she said.
She said she only stored them on her phone.