Man accused in TJX data breach pleads guilty

Damon Patrick Toey is one of 11 people arrested in the massive breach.

One of the 11 people arrested last month in connection with the massive data theft at TJX Companies, BJ Wholesale Clubs and several other US retailers pleaded guilty yesterday to four felony counts, including wire and credit card fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Damon Patrick Toey is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 10 in U.S. District Court in Boston. He faces a maximum prison term of five years and a fine of US$250,000 on each of the counts. In addition, under the terms of the plea agreement, Toey has to forfeit all of the money he earned for his role in the data theft. It is not clear how much he may have made from the attacks, although he had about $9,500 in his possession when he was arrested in May.

Toey was one of 11 alleged hackers arrested last month in connection with a series of data thefts and attempted data thefts at TJX and numerous other companies. Besides TJX and BJ's, the list of publicly identified victims of the hackers includes DSW, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes and Noble, Sports Authority and Forever 21.

In a court filing yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann said that there is "forensic and/or testimonial evidence" that Toey and his co-conspirators broke into "numerous" other businesses that have not been publicly identified. Heymann said he would be willing to submit the full list "in camera" to the court if needed.

The ID theft ring stole data involving more than 45 million payment cards, leaving 100 or so financial institutions vulnerable to losses from fraud, Heymann said.

The breach was made public in January 2007 by Framingham, Mass.-based TJX, which later reported in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that 45.6 million credit card numbers were affected -- the largest such breach on record.

The alleged thefts by Toey and his companions occurred over a five-year period, from 2003 to 2008, and were largely perpetrated -- at least, initially -- by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in the wireless networks used at retail store locations. Around mid-2007, the group, largely with the help of Toey, started launching online attacks on Web servers and databases handling payment card data. Accused gang leader Albert Gonzalez allegedly invited Toey to move into his condominium in Miami, where he stayed for free and received periodic payments in return for collaborating on the Internet-base attacks.

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