In a surprise twist to a drawn-out legal saga, a foreign hacker who was scheduled to be imminently released from federal prison and deported was charged Tuesday evening with allegedly continuing his fraudulent schemes from behind bars.
Ardit Ferizi, a Kosovo citizen who was arrested in 2015 in Malaysia and later extradited to the U.S., was granted a compassionate release by a federal judge last month due to the coronavirus outbreak. The 25-year-old Ferizi was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison for giving the Islamic State the personal information of about 1,300 U.S. military and government personnel. Ferizi holds the distinction of being the first person in the U.S. to be convicted of both computer hacking and terrorism charges, according to the Associated Press.
Ferizi was placed in a two-week quarantine, and was presumably in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement awaiting deportation to Kosovo when the Federal Bureau of Investigation determined he continued his criminal activities and had committed multiple new federal offenses while incarcerated.
“We allege Ferizi provided access to personal information of U.S. citizens, even as he was serving his prison sentence for providing similar information to ISIS,” U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California David Anderson said in a statement. “Ferizi’s alleged criminal conduct continued in prison notwithstanding his petition for an early prison release.”
According to the complaint, while in prison Ferizi instructed a family member to keep his “email alive and not expiring,” and provided them with email addresses and passwords. The FBI determined that the family member logged onto the accounts from Kosovo and downloaded databases of stolen information to liquidate the proceeds of Ferizi’s previous criminal hacking activity.
Ferizi is charged with one count of aggravated identity theft and one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
The new charges are just the latest development in what has become a back-and-forth legal saga: Ferizi had pleaded to be released from prison in the fall, and in a handwritten motion said his asthma and obesity placed him at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19. A federal judge initially rebuffed Ferizi’s request in October, but then granted him early release and reduced his sentence to time-served, plus 10 years of supervised release to be served in Kosovo.
Federal prosecutors opposed the decision, citing concerns that he might resume hacking if released.
You can read the full charges here: