The Great Cyberheist - 10 - Final

The company line at the Justice Department and the Secret Service is that informants go bad all the time, and that there was nothing special about Gonzalez’s case. As Peretti put it, “You certainly feel anger” — but “you’re not doing your job if you fall into the trap of thinking the criminal you’re working with is your best friend.” The agent in charge of the Criminal Investigative Division at the Secret Service told me: “It’s unfortunate. We try to take measures. But it does happen. You need to deal with criminals to get other criminals. Albert was a criminal.”

Heymann lauds how the Secret Service handled things. “When you find out one of your informants has committed a crime,” he said, “you can hide the fact, which unfortunately does happen from time to time. You can play it down — soft-pedal it, try to make it go away. Or you can do what I think the Secret Service very impressively did here, which is to go full bore.” He said that after Gonzalez became a suspect, “the size of the investigation, the amount of assets, all increased significantly. That reflects enormous integrity.”
But Gonzalez did have friends in the government, and there is no question some of them feel deeply betrayed. Agent Michael was the most candid with me about this: “I put a lot of time and effort into trying to keep him on the straight and narrow and show him what his worth could be outside of that world, keep him part of the team. And he knows that, and he knew what good he could have done with his talent.” He continued, “We work with a million informants, but for me it was really tough with him.”
After his sentencing, Gonzalez was transferred from Wyatt to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn (before ultimately ending up in a prison in Michigan). Situated between a loud stretch of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Gowanus Bay, M.D.C. is brutal, even for a prison. Populated by hardened offenders, it is among the last places a nonviolent government informant would want to be. “The place is terrible,” Agent Michael said. “But you know what? When you burn both ends of the candle, that’s what you get.” Even Gonzalez was impressed by the government’s indifference to his comfort. He says he always knew it would stick it to him somehow, “but I never thought it would be this badly.”
“I’ve been asking myself a lot why didn’t I ever feel this way while I was doing it,” Gonzalez told me, when I spoke with him in June. An inmate at M.D.C. who didn’t like informants had recently threatened to kill him, he said. It was his 29th birthday, and the 5th birthday of his nephew. Gonzalez’s sister wanted to bring her son to New York to visit, but Gonzalez told her not to. “I didn’t want him to get scared, seeing me in here,” he told me. Instead, Gonzalez was spending the day reading a biography of Warren Buffett.
I asked him how he felt when he thought about people like Agent Michael and Peretti. “They’re part of the betrayals,” he said.
During the legal proceedings, the court ordered Gonzalez to undergo a psychological evaluation. “He identified with his computer,” the report reads. “It is hard, if not impossible, even at the present for Mr. Gonzalez to conceptualize human growth, development and evolution, other than in the language of building a machine.”
As we spoke, Gonzalez recalled how he first became obsessed with computers as a child. “I remember so many times having arguments with my mother when she’d try to take the computer power cord from me, or she’d find me up at 6 a.m. on the computer when I had to be at school at 7:30. Or when I’d be out with [my girlfriend] and not paying any attention to her because I’d be thinking about what I could do online.”
He reflected on his days with Shadowcrew, and on his decision to help the government. “I should have just done my time in 2003,” he said. “I should have manned up and did it. I would be getting out about now.”

James Verini is a writer in New York. This is his first article for the magazine

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