Hiking with “Segvec”

Last February, my wife and I attended the wedding of a good friend of hers on the island of Puerto Rico. The day after the wedding, the bride and groom had planned to take all of their close friends on a hike to El Yunque to experience Puerto Rico's famed rain forest. Our guide for the day was a local friend who had ideas of his own.

We were told to dress casually because the "hike" wasn't much of a hike from the visitor center at El Yunque's main entrance. Our guide decided to revise plans enroute and instead took us all to a very remote back country trail to hike into El Yunque along a boulder strewn riverbed leading up the mountainside to a local swimming hole.

One of the ten people in the group was a well built, very quiet boyfriend of one of the bride's Miami girlfriends. His name was Albert. My wife later described him as one of "nicest guys she'd ever met". The hike up the river bed was tricky. Especially, considering that with the exception of me, our guide, Albert, and my wife, none of the other members of the group were prepared to do any hiking at all. I had somehow had the incredible foresight to pack my water hiking shoes prior to leaving for Puerto Rico. As the "Miami" girls in the group quickly discovered, it's not easy scrambling wet rocks in a fast-flowing frigid mountain river in flip flops. Albert and I became de facto "helping hands" when the trail became difficult.

The hike was the highlight of the trip for me. I loved every minute of it, despite the warnings we were given to hide jewelry due to the rather horrifyingly "depressed" living conditions of the locals in the area. Cell phone coverage was non-existent under the thick jungle canopy.

We made it back down to the muddy trash-blanketed parking area without incident just as darkness was starting to obscure El Yunque.

Fast forward to December
My wife returned from a visit to Miami last weekend and informed me that Albert has been in federal prison since May. Remember the major identity theft scandal that rocked DSW, TJ Maxx, and dozens of other major retailers earlier this year when 41 million credit card numbers were reported stolen? 

Turns out that the impossibly polite guy we hiked with into the bowels of El Yunque with was the mastermind behind the biggest identity theft in history! At age 27, Albert was an international thief. His "ring" consisted of eleven criminals from around the world.  Upon his [second] arrest, police confiscated approx. 1.2 million in stolen funds, a condo, BMW, 20k in cash, two computers, and a Glock.

All we knew about Albert was that he was employed by the "government". Nothing more. In actuality, he was working with the Secret Service to help them uncover the techniques cyber criminals used to steal identities. His Secret Service employment was a consequence of an earlier arrest in 2003 (when he was 24) for the same crime. According to the current federal indictment, while he was in the employ of the government, he had restarted his criminal activities and was using sensitive government resources to tip-off his co-conspirators. After a three year investigation, he was finally apprehended and jailed. Which means, our hiking group was more than likely under surveillance the whole time.

He's been called brilliant. That's arguable. One can only wonder what he could have made of himself if had he used his obvious computer talents for something less criminal. As it as stands, he will rightly be made an example of by the Secret Service and will in all likelihood be spending the rest of his life behind bars for computer fraud, wire fraud, access device fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy.

Sad, but we'd prefer to remember him simply as "Albert" and not as "Segvec" the international identity thief.

Additional Articles:
http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/08/06/business/06theft.php
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article4468114.ece
http://lawvibe.com/the-retail-store-hacker-albert-gonzalez-now-faces-prison-time/
http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2008/08/06/11_charged_with_massive_id_theft/
http://www.palmbeachpost.com/state/content/state/epaper/2008/08/06/0806idtheft.html