A Liverpool man hacked into celebrity social media accounts as part of a Bitcoin scam and threatened to leak nude pictures of actress Bella Thorne.
Joseph O’Connor, 24, pleaded guilty to cybercrime charges last month nearly three years after he and a number of others hijacked more than 130 Twitter accounts including Kanye West, Elon Musk and Joe Biden as part of a Bitcoin scam. An estimated 350m Twitter users viewed suspicious tweets with thousands duped into believing the crypto giveaway was real.
O’Connor, who went by the online name Plugwalkjoe, also stole nearly $800,000 worth of cryptocurrency – and threatened to leak nude images of Bella Thorne. O’Connor was arrested in the Southern Spanish coastal town of Estepona in July 2021.
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A court document showed he was wanted for hacking the Snapchat account of an unidentified public figure who he tried to extort with the threat of publishing nude photos.
Reacting to the news of his arrest two years ago, Thorne, who is also a singer, confirmed she was the victim and said O’Connor had made her life “a living hell”. She said after his arrest she “woke up with hope again and a weight off her shoulders”.
A Spanish court agreed to extradite O’Connor to the USA in April and last month pleaded guilty to a litany of charges that included conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, conspiracy to commit money laundering and stalking two victims, among others.
Three other men have also been charged over the Bitcoin scam. A Times piece published earlier this week heard from O’Connor’s mum who said an “obsessive” gaming addiction had turned her son into a recluse who never left his bedroom.
US Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. said: “O’Connor’s criminal activities were flagrant and malicious, and his conduct impacted multiple people’s lives. He harassed, threatened, and extorted his victims, causing substantial emotional harm.
“Like many criminal actors, O’Connor tried to stay anonymous by using a computer to hide behind stealth accounts and aliases from outside the United States. But this plea shows that our investigators and prosecutors will identify, locate, and bring to justice such criminals to ensure they face the consequences for their crimes.”
O’Connor was sentenced on Friday to five years for cyber crimes, according to the US Attorney’s Office in the southern district of New York. As part of his guilty plea, he also agreed to forfeit a sum of money equal to $794,000 and to make restitution to victims of his crimes.
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