Ex-Computer Whiz Kid Held on New Fraud Counts

Times Staff Writer

Kevin Mitnick was 17 when he first cracked Pacific Bell’s computer system, secretly channeling his computer through a pay phone in a San Fernando Valley parking lot to alter telephone bills, penetrate other computers and steal $200,000 worth of data from a San Francisco corporation.

A Juvenile Court judge at the time sentenced Mitnick to six months in a youth facility, and he was released on probation after serving his sentence. Suddenly, his probation officer found that her phone had been disconnected and the phone company had no record of it.

A judge’s credit record at TRW Inc. was inexplicably altered. Police computer files on the case were accessed from outside. A new warrant for Mitnick’s arrest was issued, accusing him of breaking into TRW’s computer, but he fled to Israel.

Upon his return, there were new charges filed in Santa Cruz, accusing Mitnick of stealing software under development by Microport Systems, and federal prosecutors have a judgment showing Mitnick was convicted on the charge. There is, however, no record of the conviction in Santa Cruz’s computer files.

On Thursday, Mitnick, now 25, was charged in two new criminal complaints accusing him of causing $4 million damage to a Digital Equipment Corp. computer, stealing a highly secret computer security system and gaining access to unauthorized MCI long-distance codes through university computers in Los Angeles and England.


U.S. Magistrate Venetta Tassopulos took the unusual step of ordering the young Panorama City computer whiz held without bail, ruling that when armed with a keyboard he posed a danger to the community.

“This thing is so massive, we’re just running around trying to figure out what he did,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Leon Weidman, who is prosecuting the case. “This person, we believe, is very, very dangerous, and he needs to be detained and kept away from a computer.”

Investigators from the FBI, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and the Los Angeles Police Department say they are only now beginning to put together a picture of Mitnick and his alleged high-tech escapades.

“He’s several levels above what you would characterize as a computer hacker,” said Detective James K. Black, head of the Police Department’s computer crime unit. “He started out with a real driving curiosity for computers that went beyond personal computers. . . . He grew with the technology.”

Mitnick’s lawyer, Anthony J. Patti, said he would have no comment on the case pending Mitnick’s arraignment on two counts of computer fraud. The case is believed to be the first in the nation under a federal law that makes it a crime to gain access to an interstate computer network for criminal purposes.

He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Federal prosecutors also obtained a court order Thursday restricting Mitnick’s telephone calls from jail, fearing he might gain access to a computer over the phone lines. At Mitnick’s request, Tassopulos authorized him to telephone his lawyer, his wife, his mother and his grandmother under jail officials’ supervision.

Los Angeles police are trying to determine what other damage Mitnick may have done with his computer terminal, Black said.