A PI Is Going To Jail For Hacking Scientology Critics, And The Court Doesn’t Know Who Hired Him

Senior Editor
06.30.15 29 Comments
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Sundance

A private investigator from New York named Eric Saldarriaga was sentenced to three months in jail Friday after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer hacking, on charges that he hired hackers to break into 60 email accounts. At least two of those accounts turned out to belong to high-profile critics of Scientology: Mike Rinder, the former Scientology spokesman turned critic (“the wife beater,” according to Scientology’s smear campaign), and Tony Ortega, an author and journalist who runs a blog dedicated to exposing the “church.”

Saldarriaga had been sending messages from an account that was set up to look like it belonged to Ortega. The emails sent by Saldarriaga used a Point-of-mail account, which allowed him to track when they were read. But he had mistakenly configured his account to send read receipts back to Ortega—as well as to his fake account.

“He screwed up,” said Ortega. “Otherwise I’d have never caught him.”

After tracking the messages back to Saldarriaga in November, 2013, Ortega said, “I contacted him and said, ‘What the hell?’ He said that he had been hacked too, and that some other private investigator was using the two of us to investigate some missing-persons thing.” Saldarriaga said he believed that both of them were being “punked” by a former client of his. (Via ArsTechnica)

It gets more detailed from there, but the gist is that Ortega eventually found out that Saldarriaga wasn’t just someone else who got hacked, but a PI who directed Ortega’s hacking. He found out Mike Rinder was another victim, and given that Ortega and Rinder’s only connection to each other is Scientology, you can guess who hired Saldarriaga. Only prosecutors don’t seem to be trying to find out. They’re reportedly still working to find all the victims of the hacking, but as for the (seemingly more important) question of who hired the hackers, that’s still up in the air.

From Tony Ortega’s blog:

I explained to Judge Sullivan about the astronomical coincidence it would require for Saldarriaga to target me and Mike Rinder and not do so on behalf of the Church of Scientology. Rinder left Scientology in 2007 after working as its international spokesman — since then, he’s been working hard to publicize the church’s controversies and abuses, and it’s made him the subject of intense surveillance and harassment by Scientology private investigators, something I’ve experienced myself as a journalist who writes about the church. As Rinder explained in his own victim-impact statement, which he submitted Thursday, “The only thing Tony Ortega and I have in common is that we are at the top of Scientology’s enemies list, because we have publicly exposed their abusive practices.” […]

But Judge Sullivan said he had no power to compel Saldarriaga to reveal who he was really working for. He wasn’t running a “truth commission,” he said. It wasn’t his court’s responsibility to investigate the Church of Scientology.

After the Sony hack, I guess it shouldn’t shock anyone that the justice system isn’t great at investigating hackings. Hopefully they aren’t saying much because this is part of a larger investigation into Scientology, and not just them throwing a middleman patsy in jail and going out for doughnuts. You’d think that someone in the government would have plenty of incentive to investigate an organization worth billions of dollars that doesn’t pay taxes, unless that organization has dug up so much dirt through their hacking operations that no one wants to bother.

At the very least, I’d love to see some of the emails the hackers sent in Tony Ortega’s name. Judging by the rest of Scientology’s smear campaign, I imagine they were similarly fifth-grade bully in nature. I picture David Miscavige calling his goons into his office going, “Try to make it look like he has a bad tan. Ooh, and a lame car. And that he’s a fatty, who loves hanging out with other fatties.”

This case is going to break wide open when we finally find David Miscavige’s burn book.

(Via New York Times)

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