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Espionage Charge Dropped as Part of Hacker’s Plea Agreement

Kevin Lee Poulsen, a former North Hollywood man considered one of the nation’s most skilled computer hackers, should be out of prison by the end of May under a plea agreement entered Thursday in federal court in San Francisco.

The 30-year-old son of a mechanic became the first hacker ever to be charged with espionage, the most serious of a series of exploits that included rigging radio contests so that he and his friends could win expensive prizes.

But the espionage charge was officially dropped Thursday as part of the agreement crafted by Poulsen’s lawyer and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In exchange, he pleaded guilty to charges of possessing computer access devices, computer fraud and the use of a phony Social Security card, according to defense attorney Paul Meltzer.

The maximum prison term Poulsen could receive when sentenced Jan. 29 will be 20 months, Meltzer said. But with credit for time awaiting trial--he has been incarcerated since his arrest in 1991--the computer whiz who signs on as Dark Dante should be released no later than May 20.

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While living underground in Los Angeles for more than two years, he helped carry out computer capers that included rigging the telephone lines at radio stations KIIS-FM, KPWR-FM and KRTH so that he and his friends could be the winning callers in contests. The cyber-tricks reaped them two Porsches, at least two trips to Hawaii and $20,000 in cash.


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