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Former Cardinals executive pleads guilty, admits hacking Astros' computers

The Houston Astros made two modest trades on July 31, 2013, sending pitcher Bud Norris to the Baltimore Orioles and outfielder Justin Maxwell to the Kansas City Royals.

Those deals probably would not have come as news to Chris Correa, then the scouting director of the St. Louis Cardinals. On that day, in the hours preceding baseball's nonwaiver trade deadline, Correa hacked into the Astros' computer system and peeked at records of the team's trade talks.

"Stupid, I know," Correa told a federal judge in Houston on Friday, as he pleaded guilty to five counts of unauthorized access to a private computer. He faces up to five years in prison on each count, although prosecutors agreed to recommend any prison terms be served concurrently.

Correa illegally accessed the Astros' computers for more than a year, viewing such confidential information as trade discussions, draft evaluations and analytical research projects, according to federal documents. After the Houston Chronicle published a detailed story about the Astros' database, the team changed all passwords, and Correa hacked into an email account to discover the new password protocol and then resume his hacking.

Correa acknowledged he tried to conceal his identity and location. The value of the unauthorized information he reviewed was estimated at $1.7 million.

"Whether it's preserving the sanctity of America's pastime or protecting trade secrets, those that unlawfully gain proprietary information by accessing computers without authorization must be held accountable for their illegal actions," U.S. Atty. Kenneth Magidson said in a news release.

Correa reportedly was concerned the Astros might have been able to use the Cardinals' proprietary information after Cardinals executive Jeff Luhnow left to become the Astros' general manager in 2011.

"You broke into their house to find if they were stealing your stuff," U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes told Correa on Friday, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Hughes then asked if Correa had found any Cardinals information in the Astros' database.

"I did, your honor," Correa said.

In a statement, the Astros denied that their database "contained any information that was proprietary to the St. Louis Cardinals." The Cardinals declined comment Friday. The team fired Correa last year, after news of the federal investigation became public and the team launched an internal investigation.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred could punish one team or both — fines and/or the loss of draft picks are considered the most likely sanctions — and the league said in a statement that any such action would wait in anticipation that federal agents would "share with us the results of their investigation."

In November, Manfred alerted owners and general managers to an urgent need to protect electronic records, particularly the proprietary databases that have popped up with the embrace of analytics, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"I think it's a result of us realizing 25 years ago, 30 years ago intellectual property in this business was what some GM carried around in his head and he was going to take it with him when he left," Manfred said. "There wasn't much you could do about that. Today the business has changed. The advice we're giving the clubs to this is reflective of the fact that we understand the business has changed."

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter: @Bill Shaikin 

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