Deric Lostutter, the former Clark County online activist known as “KYAnonymous,” pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Lexington to alleged felony violations of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He also pleaded not guilty to lying to the FBI.
Lostutter, 29, lived in Clark County in December 2012 when he allegedly took part in hacking into the computer of a man who ran a fan website for high school athletics in Steubenville, Ohio.
A few months earlier, two Steubenville High football players had been charged with raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl. The case drew national attention in part for the role social media played in calling attention to the assault and investigation.
Last week, Noah McHugh of Alexandria, Va. — Lostutter’s alleged co-conspirator who used the online identity of “JustBatCat” — pleaded guilty in federal court in Lexington to one charge of accessing a computer without authorization.
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That is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, according to a court record.
Lostutter, who now lives in North Carolina, faces a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison if he is convicted on the four felony charges brought against him. Typically in these types of computer-hacking cases, defendants receive between one and three years in prison.
Tor Ekeland, Lostutter’s attorney, said after the arraignment that McHugh “publicly took credit” for the acts for which Lostutter is charged.
“This is not a situation where somebody hacked a hospital or took down a nuclear power plant. This was an act of political protest about the rape of a 16-year-old girl,” Ekeland said. “That the federal government is expending tax dollars on this, I think is something that people should be legitimately questioning. I think it’s an odd choice of prosecutorial discretion, whatever the merits.”
Lostutter has been free on bond, and much of Wednesday’s hearing concerned conditions for his continued release.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Neeraj Gupta had asked that Lostutter be prohibited from using the internet or any device that could connect to the internet.
But Ekeland objected, saying “We are in the 21st century. The internet is essential to any employment.”
Lostutter told the court that his job involves “computer forensics,” in which he performs background checks for clients. Lostutter said he has four active clients but needs the internet to advertise his services to others.
Magistrate Judge Robert E. Wier said he will allow Lostutter to continue to use the internet and to use devices that connect to the internet for business purposes. He can use the internet to contact his family and his attorney, Wier said. Lostutter can also communicate with law enforcement personnel as part of his job, but he must alert probation officials to that contact.
The grand jury had charged that Lostutter and McHugh agreed to hack into the Steubenville High fan site, according to court documents.
The object of the scheme was to get access to the email account of the person who ran the site, to “harass and intimidate” him and to gain attention for the online identities of Lostutter and McHugh, a federal grand jury charged.
McHugh admitted in his plea agreement that he created an account using a virtual private networking service to maintain his anonymity.
While exchanging messages with Lostutter, McHugh used online resources to find the name, email address and zip code of the administrator of the fan site, then used the information to guess the answer to the security question on the person’s email account, his plea agreement said.
McHugh reset the administrator’s password and accessed his account, and he and Lostutter read the emails.
Lostutter then sent McHugh an email with a link to a video, a written statement, and a link to the private emails of the administrator of the fan site, which included nude photos, McHugh’s plea agreement said.
McHugh posted the materials on the site at Lostutter’s direction, according to the plea document.
The indictment against Lostutter alleged that he made threats that he would disclose personal information on Steubenville High students and falsely claimed that the administrator of the fan site directed a “rape crew.”
Wier scheduled an Oct. 14 pretrial conference and a Nov. 8 trial date.