PITTSBURGH - Alexander Waterland had no involvement in the bomb threats that disrupted six weeks of classes at the University of Pittsburgh last year.
His lawyer said on Tuesday that Waterland and a cohort in Ohio didn't know about the threats when they posted an anonymous YouTube video claiming to have personal information on Pitt students and staff, and threatening to release it if administrators didn't apologize for not securing it.
Yet the bomb threats blamed on Scottish separatist Adam Stuart Busby, who sits in an Irish jail awaiting extradition to Pittsburgh nine months after he was indicted, played prominently in prosecutors' arguments to put Waterland, 25, of Loveland, Ohio, in prison for his extortion hoax.
“The government is asking you to give him the punishment the guy in Ireland can't get,” Waterland's attorney, Anthony Bittner, told U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti before she sentenced him to a year and a day in federal prison. He and his attorney declined comment on the sentence.
Waterland's accomplice, Brett Hudson of Hillsboro, Ohio, is scheduled to be sentenced on June 18.
Federal court dockets show no action on Busby's cases since a grand jury indicted him in August. Prosecutors said authorities in Great Britain are ahead of the United States in line to prosecute him. The U.S. Attorney's Office would not comment on what it's doing to bring Busby to face trial in Pittsburgh.
Waterland and Hudson posted their video five days after the bomb threats ended with an email to university Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. Pitt officials and law enforcement did not know then that the hackers weren't connected to those threats or that they didn't have the confidential information they claimed, said Assistant U.S. Attorney James Kitchen.
He called Waterland a copycat and said university officials scrambled to deal with what they thought could be a security breach.
“They certainly don't view what happened here as a prank gone wrong,” Kitchen told Conti during a hearing in federal court, Downtown.
Waterland asked for forgiveness. Bittner argued his client sought no money from Pitt and caused no real damage. He said Waterland took part in a culture of harmless computer hacking.
“That's an acumen Mr. Waterland had and up until this point had gotten him into no trouble until these misguided decisions,” said Bittner, who argued for a lesser sentence with no prison time.
Kitchen said Conti must send a message to people who target corporations and others with cyber crimes. Otherwise, he said hackers will think, ‘You can hold them hostage.' That is the power the Internet provides to these criminals.”
Waterland pleaded guilty in November to a felony count of extortion. The video used a computer-modified voice and imagery from the international hacking group Anonymous.
Conti noted that Pitt was “vulnerable” at the time and admonished Waterland for committing the crime despite his computer background and upbringing. She ordered two years of supervised release after his prison term, during which authorities will monitor his computer use.
Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.