TAMPA — A California man was sentenced to nine years in prison Wednesday after he hacked into thousands of private iCloud accounts, stole people’s nude images and videos and shared them with other people.
Hao Kuo Chi, 41, received his sentence Wednesday morning in federal court in downtown Tampa.
Chi pleaded guilty last year to four felonies, including one count of conspiracy and three counts of computer fraud. He faced a maximum of 20 years in federal prison.
Before he was caught, Chi illegally gained access to 4,700 devices belonging to victims across the country, prosecutors said Wednesday. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, he stole hundreds of thousands of nude images and videos, enough to fill a terabyte of storage.
Chi also traded and shared content with anonymous co-conspirators. Using the online name “icloudripper4you,” Chi advertised his ability to hack into iCloud accounts. He and his co-conspirators specifically searched the accounts for nude images, which they referred to as “wins.”
To gain access to private devices, prosecutors said, Chi created email accounts impersonating Apple customer support representatives.
The sentence imposed by Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle was more severe than prosecutors had sought.
Prosecutors had asked the judge to impose the suggested minimum prison sentence of seven years and three months instead of the suggested maximum of nine years. Prosecutors said Chi cooperated with the investigation into his crimes, and thus was eligible for the shorter sentence.
Mizelle chose the maximum sentence instead. Her reasoning, she said, was to protect the public, deter future crimes of the same nature and get justice for Chi’s victims.
Chi’s attorney, Edward Robinson, had asked the judge for an even lesser sentence: a maximum of one year and six months in prison.
Mizelle, however, said she was appalled by Chi’s “voyeuristic, sadistic motives” for his crimes.
“I think what your client did here is far more heinous than stealing people’s money,” the judge said.
Though none of Chi’s victims were in court Wednesday, the prosecution, represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlton Gammons, presented a statement from an anonymous victim. The victim, Gammons told the court, was fired from her job and chose to move to a new city after nude images of her surfaced online.
Before she moved, she said she was called a “porn star” in public and was regularly harassed. It’s impossible to completely remove the images of this victim from the internet, Gammons said. In an attempt to move forward, he said, the victim has changed her name.
In addition to the prison sentence, Mizelle recommended that Chi receive psychiatric counseling and take advantage of mental health resources while in prison. After his release, he will be under supervision for three years.
Chi expressed remorse in his brief statement to the judge, apologizing to his victims, his wife and his parents. He struggled to speak through his tears. His actions will haunt him forever, Chi said, no matter how long he spends in prison.
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“The shame and guilt that I live with will be a life sentence,” he said.