PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A recent Haverford College graduate pleaded guilty on Tuesday afternoon for his role in a politically-motivated computer hack. Authorities say Justin Hiemstra tried to illegally obtain President Donald Trump’s tax returns.
Instead of looking to start his career or the next chapter of his life, Hiemstra has been considering a maximum two-year jail sentence along with a $200,000 fine. He pleaded guilty Tuesday for attempting to access to the president’s tax returns in what is being called a cyber “prank.”
Federal prosecutors say the 22-year-old walked into Haverford College’s computer center about a week before the presidential election in November 2016 and tried to pull off an elaborate scheme to gain access to Trump’s tax returns.
He did it by creating a fake online Free Application For Student Aid application, in the name of a Trump family member.
Then, he used a social security number for Trump that was found online, but several login attempts failed and that automatically alerted federal authorities.
“No matter what you think about the president’s tax returns, clearly this kind of illegal activity cannot be tolerated or condoned. Unauthorized or false attempts to obtain any citizen’s IRS filings are a serious violation of privacy rights and a federal crime, and there’s nothing funny about it,” said U.S. Attorney William McSwain.
If Hiemstra had been successful, it would have allowed him to import Trump’s federal tax information.
— Matt Petrillo (@MattPetrillo) August 6, 2019
“What did he plan to do with the tax returns when he obtained them?” CBS3’s Matt Petrillo asked.
“I think it was more of his attempt, no other plan after he obtained them,” said Michael van der Veen, who is representing Hiemstra.
When asked if he thinks his client deserves jail time, van der Veen said “absolutely not.”
Rob D’Ovidio, a computer crime expert and associate professor at Drexel University, says time in jail is necessary.
“We need to start taking a more serious time with this and start recognizing this is not a prank” said D’Ovidio.
Hiemstra is set to travel to Kazakhstan for several months in December where he will learn Russian, but prosecutors appear to be OK with him both leaving the country and being sentenced after he returns, saying the federal charges he faces are misdemeanors.