Kevin Mitnick, the hacker who broke into computer networks and stole credit card numbers and software, was sentenced today to 46 months in prison by a federal judge in Los Angeles.
Mitnick, 35, who has already spent more than four years in prison, should be eligible for release by early 2000 or before, according to both prosecution and defence lawyers in the case.
Depending on how the Federal Bureau of Prisons calculates time off for good behaviour, Mitnick could be released as early as January 2000, said Assistant US Attorney Chris Painter and defence lawyer Donald Randolph.
US District Court Judge Mariana Pfaelzer also ordered Mitnick to pay just over $US4000 in restitution, Assistant US Attorney David Schindler said. The judge acknowledged the amount was a "token" sum compared to the $1.5 million prosecutors asked for, but said Mitnick did not have the ability to pay more, Schindler said.
Investigators arrested Mitnick in 1995 following a well-publicised manhunt that was the subject of the book entitled Takedown. He was charged with 25 counts of wire and computer fraud for breaking into the networks of companies, including Sun Microsystems, Novell and Motorola. Mitnick has been in federal custody since his arrest.
In March, Mitnick pleaded guilty to seven counts of the 25 charges originally filed against him, plus another two charges filed separately by federal prosecutors in Northern California.
Mitnick was previously sentenced to an additional 22 months in prison for an unrelated charge of possessing cloned cellular phones when he was arrested in North Carolina in 1995 and for violating terms of a supervised release imposed after he was convicted of computer fraud in an unrelated case in 1989. The 42-month and 22-month terms are to be served consecutively, a spokesman for the US Attorney's office said.
During the hearing, the judge turned down a request by defence attorney Randolph that Mitnick be immediately released into a halfway house. Nonetheless, Randolph said he was pleased that Mitnick was not required to pay more in restitution.
The sentence reflected the seriousness of Mitnick's crimes, said Assistant US Attorney Schindler.
"We hope hackers or anybody who is intent on gaining unauthorised access to computers will recognise that there are serious penalties and consequences associated with such conduct," he said.
On Friday, California state prosecutors dropped state charges against Mitnick of illegally accessing a US Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) computer in 1993 and retrieving confidential information. Those charges, which could have added several more months to Mitnick's prison time, were dropped because Mitnick never used a computer, said Deputy District Attorney Daniel Bershin. Rather, Mitnick called the DMV, posing as a welfare fraud inspector to get the DMV to access information for him. "He was mischarged," Bershin said this week.