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When Albert Gonzalez was 12, he bought a computer with the allowance he had saved up working for his father, a landscaper.At first, his new hobby seemed a harmless distraction: He played video games — car racing and wrestling, mostly — and spent hours taking the computer apart and putting it back together.Albert's father, who had fled Cuba in the 1970s on a homemade raft, took more drastic action: Enlisting the help of some policemen friends, he staged a fake arrest of Albert, trying to scare his son into returning to reality. Instead, Albert escaped further into the solace of the world of programming chat rooms — where he called himself "soupnazi," after the grumpy restaurateur.Before long, he discovered Internet Relay Chat, a web forum popular with hackers who discussed the how-tos of breaching Internet security at its highest levels.
The coding work complete, he briskly snapped his laptop shut and hustled his friends down to the Loews' marble-floored lobby, where, acting as sober as possible, he settled their ,000 bill for the weekend, paying mostly in twenties.
They were in the midst of pulling off the biggest cybercrime ever perpetrated: hacking into the databases of some 250 companies — including Barnes & Noble, Office Max, 7-Eleven, Boston Market, Sports Authority and DSW — and stealing 170 million credit-card numbers. "Thank God," Albert pronounced, his eyes widening with relief and excitement.
But unless Albert could get Stephen to focus, the whole thing was in danger of falling apart."Now that I've got you here, I need you to do it, or it's never gonna happen," Albert urged. Together, the three friends had just succeeded at putting some finishing touches on a vast criminal enterprise, one that U. Attorney General Michael Mukasey would call "the single largest and most complex identity-theft case ever charged in this country."Only 25 years old, with little more than a high school education, Albert had created the perfect bubble, a hermetically sealed moral universe in which he made the rules and controlled all the variables — and the only code that mattered was the loyalty of his inner circle.
"If you take me, I'm not going to talk," he warned.
"I'm just going to stay quiet." When she moved the computer to his sister's room, Albert simply snuck in during the night to log on to chat rooms devoted to computer programming.