Ag3nt47 Home for Christmas

Ag3nt47 with friend

Ag3nt47 Headed Home for Christmas
by Susan Basko

Update: December 24, 2013: Larry Patterson, Ag3nt47, arrived last night in California, home in time for Christmas with his family.

December 23, 2013. Today, Larry Patterson, aka Ag3nt47, an alleged hacker from Tracy, California, was freed from federal custody in New Jersey. He was freed on signature, pending the resolution of charges. However, at this time, there are no charges pending and there is no indictment.  All there is is a vague complaint by an FBI agent.

Ag3nt47 was apparently a bored young man living at home with his mom.  He created a dashing online persona for himself as a "hacker god," a heavy drinker, and prone to violence. As it turned out, all of that was apparently false, created for swagger and internet sex purposes.  Bragging about crime can get you in a whole lot of trouble, as Ag3nt47's saga will illustrate.  Ag3nt47 was also widely known as someone who harassed others, including me.  I had him blocked on Twitter, but when the time came to help him, all that seemed small in comparison to his genuine need.

Ag3nt47 was in some sort of e-relationship with @TruthIzSexy, said to be Shona Sweeney of the UK.  In July 2013, a news report was published that Ag3nt47 was being investigated for computer hacks against Harvard University, MIT, and other universities.   After Mr. Patterson was arrested, a Twitter account named @s3rverexe, who claimed to be in an IRL relationship with @TruthIzSexy, bragged that he or she got @Ag3nt47 arrested by filing an FBI tipline complaint back in August.  Considering a news report in July told of the investigation, it seems likely the @s3rverexe complaint was additional information, but not the cause of 47's legal troubles.

CUSTODIAL INTERROGATION: On November 21, 2013, federal agents came with a search warrant to Ag3nt47's home in Tracy, California.  They quizzed Mr. Patterson, he says, without telling him his Miranda rights.  According to a court affidavit, during this FBI interview during the raid of his home, Mr. Patterson admitted hacking multiple computers.  The 5th Amendment prohibits custodial interrogation without a lawyer present, unless the interviewee has been told the Miranda rights.  If this precept has been violated, the information given during the interview may be suppressed as evidence. This means it will not be admissible as evidence.  However, courts often rule that even if a statement is suppressible, the fruits of the statements may not always be.  This means that evidence located because of the statements might be admissible, even if the statements are not.  

There is also a question of when custodial interrogation occurs during an FBI house raid.  The whole crux is whether the person felt free to leave or free to end the interview.  When the FBI raids a person's home, they tend to bring 10 or more agents armed with guns, and often dressed in protective clothing.  The subject and family are often awakened early in the morning, or surprised late at night.  Most people are terrified beyond belief during an FBI raid on their home, and rightly so.  To meet the letter of the law, in most cases, all the FBI agent interviewing the subject needs to do is tell the person their Miranda rights, the right to remain silent, to have a lawyer, etc.  Courts have picked apart whether a person is in custody in their own home if an FBI agent with a gun is standing  near the entryway to the room, if the interview takes place in a more relaxed or private area of the home, if others are within earshot, etc.  Courts look at the totality of the circumstances. 

However, and this is important to note - if your home is raided by the FBI, you have the right to remain silent, and it is highly recommended by all lawyers.  If there is something useful for you to communicate to the agents, you can do that later with a lawyer present.

According to the FBI agents, while being interviewed in his home during the raid, Mr. Patterson admitted hacking computers.  However, as it turns out, it appears likely that Mr. Patterson's admissions were part of a pattern of making false statements about himself, which is a not-uncommon phenomenon during interrogation, as well as on Twitter.

KIDNAPPED!:  The FBI did not have an arrest warrant.  In fact, there was no indictment and no charges had been filed.  As of this writing, there are still no charges or indictment.   The FBI agents were supposed to take Ag3nt47's computer, not him.  However, upon seeing how good-looking Larry Patterson is, the FBI agents decided to take  him, too.  With their kidnap victim in tow, they headed to the jail.  They couldn't just stash him in the evidence locker, so they convinced him to enter a Rule 20 Guilty plea on the nonexistent charges on the nonexistent indictment.  

While in jail in Sacramento, California, Larry Patterson signed the Rule 20 in his own signature.  Note that during all this, Mr. Patterson had serious medical issues and was taken away without his medicine, without proper meals or rest or care.  

A Rule 20 plea may be made by a defendant when he or she is arrested on a federal complaint in a District other than the one in which the complaint is pending.  The defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for not being moved to the other district.  This stay-near-home maneuver is usually short lived, as the defendant is sentenced and taken to prison, often far away in a different state.  A Rule 20 is not a plea deal with a proposed sentence, but is a blank check.  In Larry's case, since there were not charges or indictment, he was handing the prosecutors carte blanche to indict him on whatever.     

#OP47Home: That's the point at which #Op47Home formed.  The #Op47Home team was Larry's friend Mami,  who is a true friend to go through so much hassle to free him;  Joseph Camp aka JoJo, a former federal prisoner on computer charges, and me, a lawyer good at research.  First, we sent word to Larry that a Rule 20 plea on a nonexistent indictment was like signing a blank check. Larry's lawyer quickly rescinded the Rule 20 plea, which meant that Larry was immediately sent on his way to New Jersey to face the (nonexistent) charges.

That's where Joseph Camp, aka JoJo, came in.  JoJo was in federal custody on some computer charges for over 4 years, and he was transported place to place.  He knew that a trip that would normally take less than a day would, with the US Marshals running the transportation, take weeks to a month.  When a prisoner is taken away by the US Marshals, the Marshals do not apprise the family where their loved one is being taken.  The person is disappeared and resurfaces weeks later, far away.  The status of pretrial detainees in federal custody does not readily appear on any online database.  They are moved from facility to facility, in a zig-zag pattern across the nation, with multiple bus rides, flights, and short stays at various public and private jail facilities across the U.S.  Since Jojo knew the usual route and the likely options of jails where Ag3nt47 would be housed (if sleeping on a floor and being fed a bologna sandwich can be considered "housed"), he was able to track 47's movements.  Jojo was also able to find the commissary and phone information, so Mami and other friends could put money into the funds.  Without this, prisoners have no way to call their loved ones, and no way to purchase food or needed items.  Thanks to JoJo, we knew at all times where Ag3nt47 was located, and his loved ones had  phone contact with him, if sporadically.   

Phone Calls.  Family members are not allowed to call into a jail or prison. The prisoner must call out.  The person being called must have an account with whatever phone service is used by that particular facility.  Typical prices on phone calls from jails add up to about $20 or $30 for a 10 minute timed call.  The companies get these lucrative contracts with the government, and the prisoners and their families suffer greatly while the companies profit enormously.   Many families, of course, cannot afford to receive calls from their loved one who is in custody.   In many jails, the person being called must also be pre-approved, which can take time and be complicated. All calls are recorded and/ or listened to.  There is no privacy.   A few jails have email service, where the family may send short emails to the jail and the prisoner pays from a commissary fund to receive the email. There is no privacy there, either, as all emails are read by the prison staff.   

Prisoners being transported by the US Marshals may land at a jail where there is barely time for the family to put money into an account to receive a call.  If the prisoner is being moved the next day, they are not allowed to make a call the night before.  This can lead to prolonged times of no contact between the detainee and his or her loved ones.  

Families of federal detainees are not apprised of their loved one's legal status or their lawyer's contact information.  Since I know how to look all that up, I was able to provide #Op47Home with the needed information.  That was my first move -- putting Larry's support team in touch with his lawyer. 

Medical. As a lawyer,  I was tracking the legalities.  I found the US Marshals medical regulations, a detailed list of which medical needs they will meet for those in their custody.  The list is written to absolve the US Marshals of having to provide almost any care, even care that is simple and mandatory, such as daily prescriptions for important medical conditions.  The U.S. Marshals Service Prisoner Health Care Standards are abysmal.   Whatever their rules state, Mr. Patterson was not given his prescribed, much-needed medicine during his entire time in custody.  He was sent on a harrowing trip held in shackles and chains, fed poorly, degraded, and denied needed medical care.    The different facilities were made aware of his medical needs, and all the facilities neglected his much-needed care.

30 Days. There was also the factor that prisoners in federal custody are supposed to be freed if there is no indictment within 30 days.  Mr. Patterson's custody was particularly appalling because there were no charges, no indictment, and no arrest warrant.  He was a man confiscated along with his computer. By the time Larry arrived in New Jersey, he was closing in on the 30-day mark.  We in the #Op47Home Team were counting those days. 

Release Pending Resolution.   Mami got busy contacting Ag3nt47's new lawyer in New Jersey and making arrangements for Larry's release, if the court would grant it.  It seemed likely to be granted, perhaps even Constitutionally mandated.  But, getting a prisoner released  pending resolution of charges, even nonexistent charges, is not easy.  The prisoner must have someone reliable and responsible sign for their release.  The person signing must be close family or someone who has known the prisoner for a long time, with ties to the community and a good personal and financial background.   The person must assure the prisoner will  return for future court dates and will abide by the court's rules and restrictions while on release.  In this case, there is bail money held in reserve.  If the defendant, Larry, fails to show up for court, the person who signed the bond will have to pay all that money.  For most families, that means they will lose their home or life savings if their loved one skips out on court.  While on pretrial release, typical restrictions on federal computer crime defendants are: no computer usage, stay with family, remain in the specified states, get any needed medical care,  do not commit any crimes, and register with a pretrial services office.

Then, there is also a matter of money.   The prisoner or his loved ones must pay for their own transportation home.  Plane tickets on short notice at Christmas time are hard to find and very expensive.  Somewhere along the trip, the prisoner has had all his clothes and belongings taken from him.  Mami put in countless hours and lots of money to make these arrangements for Larry.  It was much more work for her than can be described here, an enormous undertaking.   Larry's federal defender in New Jersey worked hard to secure Larry's release, get him appropriate clothing, and drove him to the airport and got him on the plane.  

Once Ag3nt47's plane arrives in California, he is going to need sleep, a decent meal, medical care, and a new way to entertain himself, since he cannot be on the computer.

It has been a great experience working with the #Op47Home team. As a team working on this, I'd say we each gave our 100% effort and each had complementary skills.  We're real happy to get Larry home to his family in time for Christmas.

What's Next: The Feds can either drop the case, which seems logical under the circumstances, or they can come up with an indictment.  If Larry is indicted, he will have to show up in New Jersey for some important court dates.