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Chicago man admits hacking at least 30 celebrity online accounts

Edward J. Majerczyk, 29, leaves the Dirksen Federal Courthouse after pleading guilty on Sept. 27, 2016. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

Edward Majerczyk hacked into the online accounts of at least 30 celebrities whose private photographs wound up online for the world to see.

But after Majerczyk, 29, admitted his role Tuesday in the infamous Hollywood scandal known as “Celebgate” — which exposed nude photographs of dozens of A-list celebrities in September 2014 and gave actress Jennifer Lawrence an anxiety attack — his attorney told reporters the South Side man is “a very private individual.”

“He screwed up and he’s moving on with his life and he looks forward to rebuilding his life as soon as this case is over with,” said Thomas Needham, Majerczyk’s defense attorney.

Majerczyk now faces a maximum of five years in prison after pleading guilty in front of U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras to accessing a protected computer without authorization — and accessing the Apple iCloud and Gmail accounts of more than 300 people, including at least 30 celebrities.

Federal prosecutors have agreed to seek a prison term of no more than nine months. Majerczyk’s sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 10.

The Chicago Sun-Times first reported the FBI had raided Majerczyk’s apartment on Narragansett near Midway Airport in connection with its Celebgate investigation. Majerczyk told the judge Tuesday he used a trick he “had learned from another individual” to access and download sensitive photographs.

The feds say Majerczyk used a “phishing” scheme, sending his victims emails from addresses like “appleprivacysecurity@icloud.com.” The emails appeared to be from the victims’ internet service providers’ security accounts and would direct the victims to a website that collected their usernames and passwords.

“Did you concentrate on celebrities?” Kocoras asked.

“Yes, your honor,” Majerczyk said.

Edward J. Majerczyk leaves the Dirksen Federal Courthouse after pleading guilty on Tuesday. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times
Edward J. Majerczyk leaves the Dirksen Federal Courthouse after pleading guilty on Tuesday. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

Needham stressed in court that Majerczyk never used the photos for extortion, and the feds say there is no evidence he leaked them online. When the judge asked if Majerczyk simply sought the photographs for his own “personal satisfaction,” Needham conceded that was the case.

The feds walked out of Majerczyk’s apartment in October 2014 with several computers, a cellphone, hard drives and thumb drives, court records show. Needham told the judge Majerczyk will not be seeking the return of any of his electronics.

The FBI also raided a home on South Washtenaw in Brighton Park, records show, but no criminal charges appear to have been filed as a result.

Search warrant applications filed in Chicago describe interviews with some of the victimized celebrities but refer to them only by their initials. Victims of the hack included Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kate Upton and boyfriend Justin Verlander. Some of the celebrities reported they’d been briefly locked out of their online accounts before the leak, records show.

Others said they received the so-called “phishing” messages described by federal prosecutors in Majerczyk’s case. Many said the photographs were meant only for their significant others. And one said she sent some of the 54 private leaked photographs to her fiance. But she said she never sent him the others — she only stored them on her phone.

Finally, an FBI agent described one interview with Lawrence, identified only as “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.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence called the leak a “sex crime.”

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