Convicted TJX hacker Albert Gonzalez earned $75,000 a year working undercover for the U.S. Secret Service, informing on bank card thieves before he was arrested in 2008 for running his own multimillion-dollar card-hacking operation.
The information comes from one of Gonzalez’s best friends and convicted accomplices, Stephen Watt. Watt pleaded guilty last year to creating a sniffer program that Gonzalez used to siphon millions of credit and debit card numbers from the TJX corporate network while he was working undercover for the government.
Watt told Threat Level that Gonzalez was paid in cash, which is generally done to protect someone’s status as a confidential informant. The Secret Service said it would not comment on payments made to informants. Gonzalez’s attorney did not respond to a call for comment.
“It’s a significant amount of money to pay an informant but it’s not an outrageous amount to pay if the guy was working full time and delivering good results,” says former federal prosecutor Mark Rasch. “It’s probably the only thing he was doing — other than hacking into TJX and making millions of dollars.”
Gonzalez’s salary highlights how entwined he was with the government at the time he participated in the largest identity theft crimes in U.S. history. Gonzalez, 28, is set for sentencing this week on three indictments covering nearly every headline-making bank-card theft in recent years, including intrusions at TJX, Office Max, Hannaford Brothers, 7-Eleven and Heartland Payment Systems (which alone exposed magstripe data on 130 million credit and debit cards). The hacker’s plea agreements contemplate a total prison term of between 17 and 25 years.
Rasch says Gonzalez’s $75,000 is nothing compared to the million-dollar payouts some undercover informants get for high-risk, high-value cases such as Mafia investigations. But Gonzalez’s payments dwarf the meager handouts given previous computer crime informants.
Hat Tip: Gadget42 (who likely has a towel)